east africa maps

No. 5 - THE GORILLA HIGHLANDS

 

 

Of all the maps in the Uganda maps series, the map of the Bwindi region was the most challenging to create due to the complex terrain. The watercolour background is my second attempt to depict the steep and deeply incised Kigezi terrain.

 

The Kigezi Highlands map illustrates the hills, lakes and forests found in Uganda’s south west corner adjoining the Rwandan and Congolese borders. The priority for most visitors in the area is tracking the mountain gorilla and the map shows the ranges of habituated gorilla groups established during a census in 2011.  The area covered extends north from Bwindi to include the route to Ishasha in the south of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Ishasha is shown in greater detail in Map 6.  The reverse contains general information about the region and maps of Kisoro and Kabale towns, and Lake Bunyonyi.

 

The Kigezi Highlands are found 500km southwest from Kampala on the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Despite its remoteness, Kigezi is Uganda’s prime tourist destination thanks to the rare mountain gorillas which inhabit the dense forests of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks.  It is also superbly scenic; the routes to the gorilla parks explore landscapes of steeply terraced hills, dense forests and breathtakingly lovely lakes, and the omnipresent backdrop of the Virunga volcanoes.

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BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK

 

The 327km2 Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the largest of Kigezi’s forested ‘islands.’  The need for protection against the tide of cultivation is evident from the way that farmland extends right up to the forest edge.  Bwindi was first protected as the Impenetrable Forest Reserve in 1942 before being upgraded to national park status in 1992.  It was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1994 in recognition of its biodiversity.

 

Bwindi’s impressive species lists are partly a consequence of the forest’s great age - at least 25,000 years.  During this time it has attracted 350 species of bird, 310 of butterfly, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and an exceptional 120 types of mammal including 10 primates.  Another reason for this diversity is a 1447m altitudinal range that supports a wide variety of habitats, from lowland forest at 1160m a.s.l. to rare Afromontane vegetation at 2600m.

Most visitors to Bwindi are intent on locating just one of its 120 mammal species - the famous MOUNTAIN GORILLA.  The forest is home to about 340 gorillas -  almost half of the world’s total estimated population (720) of this rare and critically endangered great ape.  The other 380 live in the Virunga volcanoes, 30km south, the Ugandan slopes of which are protected by the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Some thirty gorilla groups roam Bwindi forest, six of which have been habituated for tourism. Gorillas can be tracked from four locations in Bwindi.  The oldest and busiest of these trailheads is BUHOMA on the north western edge of the forest where three gorilla groups – Mubare (‘M’ group), Habinyanja (‘H’ group) and Rushegura (‘R’ group) have been habituated for tracking.

 

MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK

 

Mgahinga protects the northern slopes of three of the Virunga volcanoes, Muhuvura (4127m), Mgahinga (3474m) and Sabinyo (3634m), at the southern limit of the Albertine Rift Valley.  The park is located in Uganda’s extreme south western corner on the borders with Congo and Rwanda - climbers reaching the summit of Mt. Sabinyo can stand in all three countries at once.  Created in 1991 from the Gorilla Game Sanctuary, Mgahinga is Uganda’s smallest park, covering just 33.7km2.  Its conservation value is increased by the adjoining  Virunga NP in Congo and Volcanoes NP in Rwanda

Mgahinga’s best known activities are tracking MOUNTAIN GORILLA and GOLDEN MONKEY, both endangered species restricted to the Albertine Rift Valley.  Gorilla tracking is not always possible since the habituated group can roam into Congo or Rwanda.  The park’s three VOLCANOES can all be climbed.  The tough climb to the summit of Muhuvura finds giant Lobelia and Groundsel plants in the high altitude Afro-alpine vegetation zone while the rare RWENZORI TURACO is frequently sighted in the Sabinyo Gorge.  An easier trail follows the drystone BUFFALO WALL along the park boundary providing birding opportunities and fine views of the triple peak volcanic backdrop.

The slopes of the Virunga are riddled with lava tubes, the best known being GARAMA CAVE on Mt. Gahinga.  Historically, this was a refuge for Batwa Pygmies. Today, this is the destination for the park’s new BATWA TRAIL, a day-long event during which Batwa guides demonstrate and describe their traditional forest culture to visitors.  Part of the profits from the walk support Batwa development/ welfare projects.

 

LAKE BUNYONYI

 

Enclosed by steep, terraced hills and dotted with islands, Uganda’s deepest lake is unforgettably scenic.  In recent years, a variety of tourist accommodation has sprung up on the islands and around the lakeside village of Rutinda, providing relaxing locations in beautiful and serene settings.  The shoreline road allows gentle walks while the lake itself can be explored by dug out canoe.  Remoter parts of the Bunyonyi valley can be explored by 2-3 day canoeing/camping expeditions.  Birders will find wetland birds, including papyrus endemics, in the Ruhuma Swamp just north of the lake’s outlet near Muko.

 

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

 

Bradt Guide to Uganda (7th edition: 2013) Philip Briggs & Andrew Roberts.

Updates on blog: http://bradtugandaupdate.wordpress.com

 

Uganda Wildlife Authority

For information about Uganda’s national parks www.ugandawildlife.org

 

Kigezi & Its People: Paul Ngologosa

 

Guide to Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks: David Bygott and Jeanette Hanby

 

Nkuringo Walking Safaris

www.nkuringowalkingsafari.com

 

Bakiga culture, volunteer programme and Lake Bunyonyi canoe safaris

www.edirisa.org

 

Friendagorilla campaign

www.friendagorilla.org

 

International Gorilla Conservation Programme

www.igcp.org