Located in south-western Uganda, high on the edge of the western Rift Valley on the highest block of the Rukiga Highlands, flanked by the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and adjacent to the Parc National des Virunga, this is one of the largest (331 sq. km) natural forests in Africa. Because of its range and size, and because it includes both montane and lowland forests, the species diversity is extremely high. A large number of plants and animals are endemic to the region.
Half the world’s population of mountain gorillas are found in Bwindi National Park, the remainder roaming between Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda in the Virunga Conservation area. Vegetation is typical tropical rainforest with very dense undergrowth. There are 163 species of trees, 346 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies and a wide range of reptiles. There are also 120 species of mammals, making it one of the richest ecosystems in Africa. A small number of mountain elephants will be found in the southeast region around the Mubwindo Swamp.
The park is surrounded by some of the most densely populated areas of Uganda, with the main ethnic groups being the Bakiga and the Bafumbira.
Activities in the Park
Mountain gorilla tracking is the main tourist attraction. There are two habituated groups of gorillas, and viewing is strictly controlled to ensure the sustainability of the primates. Strict rules must be followed to prevent behavioral disturbances and the transmission of diseases from humans to the gorillas. (Even a common cold can be fatal to the primates). Only six visitors are allowed in at any one time a day per habituated group, and details can be obtained from the park headquarters or any Ugandan tour operator.
The rugged terrain makes trekking gorillas strenuous work. The exercise involves walking through thick forest up steep and slippery slopes, to where the gorillas were found the previous day. Trackers then look for any signs – pressed down grass, broken twigs, dung – that might tell them the direction the group has taken. With visitors following through the dense undergrowth, the search continues, at times literally crawling through the thickets, until the gorillas are found. Mountain gorillas cover long distances each day and so tours can last anywhere between three to nine hours.
There are a number of other hiking trails in the park and guides should be arranged in advance. The area around Buhoma is an excellent place for watching many different primates and birds, (and is famous for its tumbling waterfalls).