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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.
As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.
Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
PARK AT A GLANCE
Size: 33.7km2, making it Uganda’s smallest National Park.
The park takes its name from "Gahinga" - the local word for the piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes.
The British administration declared the area a game sanctuary in 1930; it was gazetted as a National Park in 1991.
Mgahinga has one habituated trans-boundary gorilla group.
The Batwa were self-sufficient – and visitors can see how during a fascinating tour with a Batwa guide to learn the secrets of the forest.
Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.
The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
While Semuliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
PARK AT A GLANCE
Size: 220km² with an altitude of 670-760m above sea level
Semuliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to national park status in 1993.
It is the only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, hosting 441 recorded bird species and 53 mammals.
Large areas of this low-lying park may flood during the wet season,a brief reminder of the time when the entire valley lay at the bottom of a lake for seven million years.
Four distinct ethnic groups live near the park – Bwamba farmers live along the base of the Rwenzori while the Bakonjo cultivate the mountain slopes. Batuku cattle keepers inhabit on the open plains and Batwa pygmies, traditionally hunter gathers, live on the edge of the forest.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda's oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. More famously, this “impenetrable forest” also protects an estimated 320 mountain gorillas – roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.
This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several p