Mountain gorillas only live in the dense vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and along the dormant volcanic Virunga mountain range that stretches across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 1981, environmentalists estimated there were only 254 mountain gorillas left in the world, but the small population is rising slowly thanks to intense international conservation efforts. Since these critically endangered creatures can’t survive in captivity, the only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat: misty cloud forests that can reach altitudes of 14,763 feet.
Here are 5 reasons to make Uganda your base for this incredible journey.
You’ll Be Where Half the World’s Mountain Gorillas Live.
There are two gorilla trekking spots in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Gorillas don’t pay mind to political borders, so populations across the Virungas are relatively fluid. Uganda has an edge, however, since Bwindi alone is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (also called “The Place of Darkness” due to its dense treetops) is an ancient, montane and lowland forest spanning 128 square miles. The region was named a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its incredible biodiversity and the large number of endangered species that call it home.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park accounts for 13 square miles of the larger Virunga habitat, which stretches across 168 square miles into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The national park includes three of the eight major Virunga peaks: Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura and Mount Sabyinyo.
You Can Fight Habitat Destruction by Supporting Community Enrichment.
Habitat destruction is the main threat to mountain gorillas. Communities around the parks are heavily populated, and residents have traditionally used land around national park boundaries for farming or logging.
Since tourism is now Uganda’s most lucrative industry, and the majority of tourists come to see the mountain gorillas, trekkers are encouraged to seek out ways to give back to the communities they visit. One popular option is to hire a porter, who is always a local resident and occasionally a reformed poacher. The landscape within the parks is unpredictable and difficult; porters help guide trekkers through river crossings and up steep, muddy inclines.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the most sought after world class tourist destination as it harbors more than a half of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas listed as a critically endangered species. Recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1994, Bwindi (Which locally refers to darkness or impenetrable) was since 1942 a forest reserve before it was elevated to a full national park in 1991. The 321k2 national park is characterized by tangled vegetation draped over a deeply fissured landscape of steep slippery valleys and high drought ridges. It’s ever chilly weather and challenging terrain offers unequaled ambiance and serenity for the visitors seeking to meet and interact with their closest cousins. A trek through one of Africa’s most ancient rain forests, in search of the endangered Mountain Gorillas, ranks among the world’s premier wildlife encounters.
Flora and Fauna
Bwindi supports a tremendous biodiversity as a result of three major factors. Its slopes extend over a broad attitudinal range of 1,447m to create habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1,160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2,600m. It is also extremely old and part of the exceptionally rich Albertine Rift Endemic area. When most of Africa’s forests disappeared during arid conditions of the ice age (12,000 -18,000 years ago), Bwindi was one of the few ‘refugia’ that persisted. Consequently, while most of today’s forests are no more than 12,000 years old, Bwindi’s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over at least 25,000 years, in the process accumulating a lengthy species list. This list includes 310 species of butterflies, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and 120 types of mammals.
Mountain gorillas live in structured groups with defined home ranges. Bwindi has ten habituated gorilla groups that are tracked by tourists. Three of these are in the vicinity of Buhoma, three at Ruhija, while other four are tracked from the southern sector (Nkuringo/Rushaga)
The Park boasts 10 species of primates including the mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, baboon, L’Hoest, red-tailed, blue monkey, black and white Colobus and the nocturnal bush babies.
Bwindi is a habitat for a variety of birds with over 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the short-tailed Warbler, Shelly’s Crimsonwing, African Green Broadbill and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as seven IUCN red data listed species. Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, African Blue White-tailed Flycatchers and Red-headed Bluebill.
The Park is about 530kms from Kampala city and can be reached by road from several directions that include: through Queen Elizabeth National Park (Mweya) – via Kihihi to Buhoma.
From Kampala you can also access It via Kabale through Kanungu to Buhoma (5-6 hour journey); Ntungamo via Rukungiri through Kihihi to Buhoma (5-6hour journey); via Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma (S-6hour journey); Kabale-Nkuringo (6-7hour journey); Kisoro-Rubuguri/Nkuringo 2 hour journey).
Note: a 4×4 vehicle is recommended for a Bwindi visit.
From Entebbe Airport or Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to the tarmac airstrip at Kisoro town, Visitors to Buhoma can also charter planes to Kayonza (near Butogota) or Savannah (Kihihi) and Ishasha airstrips.