Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is Uganda’s most tourist hotspot with 331 km2, which protects a rugged landscape of steep hills and valleys abuttung the Congolese border of south Ishasha and north of Kisoro. Rolling eastward from the Albertine Rift Escarpment, the tangled forested slopes of Bwindi provide shelter to one Africa’s most diverse mammalian faunas, inc activity including 45% of the global mountain gorilla population. Unsurprisingly, the main tourist activity in Bwindi is gorilla tracking, which was first established at the Buhoma park headquaters in 1993, but now operates out of four trailheads-the others being Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga-all of which are serviced by a selection of tourists lodges. Today, eleven habituated (and three semi-habituated) gorilla groups can be tracked in Bwindi, a thrilling but costly venture regarded by most who have undertaken it to be a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is also of the finest birding destination in Uganda, thanks in part to the presence of 23 Albertine Rift Endemic, while other attractions includes forest walks in search of smaller primates such as black-and-white colobus and L’Hoest’s monkey. There are also few reputable cultural programmes that offer the opportunity to interact with the Batwa Pygmies who were evicted from the forest interior following the gazetting of the national park.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Bwindi is one of Africa’s most diverse forests, due to its altitudinal span of 1,160 m to 2,607 m and an antiquity of more than 25,000 years, and its flora includes 160 tree and more than 100 fern species. It formed part of much larger forest belt that stretched south to the slopes of the Virunga Mountains until about 500 years ago, when agriculturists started planting crops in the Kisoro areas. The area was first accorded protection in 1932 with the creation of the Kayoza and Kasatora Crown Forest, which had a combined area of 207 km2. In 1964, the protected area was extended to its present-day size, renamed the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve, and designated as a gorilla and wildlife sanctuary. Gazetted as a national park in 1991, it protects a true rainforest that receives an average annual rainfall of almost 1,500 mm, and a virtual catchment area at the source of five major rivers that flows into Lake Edward. The park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 on account of its biodiversity and wealth of IUCN red-listed wildlife. Bwindi harbours at least 120 mammal species, more than any national park except Queen Elizabeth. It’s most famous residents are the mountain gorillas, which number around 400 individuals split across 25 ‒ 30 troops according to the most recent survey, undertaken in 2012. Another ten primates species are present, a list that includes a healthy population of (unhabituated) chimpanzee, and substantial numbers of olive baboon, black-and-white colobus. L’Hoest’s monkey, red-tailed monkey and blu monkey. Of the so-called “big five” only elephants are present, through the herd of 30 animals in the southeast of the park-assigned to the forest race it is very seldom seen by tourists. Buffaloes and leopards were present until recent times, but they are thought to have been hunted to extinction. Six antelopes species occur in the park: bushbuck and five types of forest duiker. Small mammals such as rodents and bats are well represented, too. A total of 350 bird species has been recorded in Bwindi, a remarkably high figure when you consider that it includes very few water-associated birds. Of particular interest to birders are 23 species endemic to the Albertine Rift, and at least 14 species recorded nowhere else in Uganda, among them the African green broadbill, white-tailed blue flycatcher, brown-necked parrot, white-bellied robin chat and Fraser’s eagle-owl. In addition to its extensive bird checklist, Bwindi is also home to at least 200 butterfly species, including eight Albertine Rift Endemics, and dedicated butterfly watchers might hope to identify more than 50 varieties in one day. Bwindi is also home to many reptile and amphibians, notably the Rwenzori three-horned chameleon (Trioceros johnstoni), a spectacularly colourful foot-long Albertine Rift Endemic.