Olive baboons in Kibale Forest National Park

Uganda’s premier chimpanzee-tracking destination, Kibale Forest National Park protects 766 km2 of predominantly forested habitat that extends more than 50 km south from the main Kampala-Fort Portal Road to the northeast border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Originally gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932, Kabale wa upgraded to national park status, and extended southward to form a contiguous block with the Queen Elizabeth National Park, in 1993. The trailhead for chimpanzee trekking and main centre of tourist activity within the park is the Kanyanchu Visitors’ Centre, which lies 35 km south of Fort Portal along a soon-to-be surfaced road continuing south to Kamwenge. Chimp aside, Kanyanchu offers some superb forest birding and monkey viewing, with the community-run Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, only 5 km away immediately outside the park boundary, being a particular highlight in this respect. While Kibale National Park and Kanyanchu are practically synonymous so far as most visitors are concerned, a lesser known secondary point of entry — no chimp tracking offered, but good for nature walk — can be found at the northerly Sebitoli Sector, 15 km east of Fort Portal along the Kampala Road.


Kibale National Park is dominated by tropical rainforest, but this is interspersed with tracts of grassland and swamp. Spanning altitude of 1,100 m – 1,590 m, Kibale boasts a floral composition transitional to typical eastern Afromontane and western lowland forest with more than 200 tree species recorded in total. Unlike Budongo Forest to its north, Kibale was not logged commercially until the 1950s, when it became an important source of timber for the Kilembe Copper Mine near Kasese, and logging was discontinued during the civil war. As a result, areas of mature forest are still liberally endowed with large-buttressed mahoganies, areas of tall fruiting figs, and other hardwood trees whose canoy is up to 60 m above the ground. It also supports a dense tangle of lianas and epiphytes, while the thick undergrowth includes wild Robusta coffee. At least 60 mammal species are present in Kabale National Park. It is particularly rich in apes, with 13 species of primates recorded, the highest total for any Ugandan National Park. Kibale Forest is the most important stronghold of Ugandan red colobus, but it supports eight other diurnal primate species: vervet monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys and blue monkeys; Uganda mangabey — significantly smaller than the grey-cheeked mangabey, with a shorter skull and smaller face; black-and-white colobus; olive baboon; and chimpanzee. It also supports four species of nocturnal prosimian including the sloth-like potto. While Kibale forest offers superlative primate viewing, it is not an easy place to see other large mammals — this is despite an impressive checklist which includes lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, hippo, warthog, giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, sitatunga, and peter’s, red and blue duikers. The elephants found in Kibale Forest belong to the forest race, which is smaller and hairier than the more familiar savannah elephant. Elephants frequently move into Kanyanchu area during the we season, but they are not often seen by tourists. Roughly 335 species of birds have been recorded in Kibale, including four species not recorded in any national park: Nahan’s francolin, Cassin’s spinetail, blue headed bee-eater and masked apalis. Otherwise, the checklist for Kibale includes a similar range of forest birds to Semliki and the inclusion of 40-odd Semliki and the exclusion of greater variety of water and grassland species. A recent first sighting of green-breasted pitta (African pitta) caused some excitement in Ugandan ornithological circles, while the truly optimistic might want to look out for the Kibale ground-thrush, a presumably endemic species or race collected by Alexandre Prigogine in 1978 and yet to be seen again. The most productive birding spots are generally Bigodi Swamp (Wetland Sanctuary) and the stretch of main road running either side of Kanyanchu Tourist Centre.

Situated ideally in the heart of the Tooro Kingdom in western Uganda, near Fort Portal, the park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and is within a half days’ drive of Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks.

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Uganda’s National Parks