KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Kibale Forest National Park is a safari destination whose range of primates is as impressive as its selection of avian life. The forest boasts the greatest primate variety and density in the East African region making it a primatologist dream.
At a size of 795Sq.Km, Kibale became a government Forest Reserve in the early 1940’s and a National Park in 1993. It is the most magnificent of Uganda’s tropical rainforests and one of the most rewarding areas to explore on a safari, with 13 Primate Species including the delightful Chimpanzees as the star attraction and most closely related to humans than to any other living creature.
The Park is located in the western part of the country, in the western tourism circuit situated idyllically in the heart of the Tooro Kingdom. Kibale National Park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasende Crater Field, and close to it are; Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks. The Southern part of Kibale Forest joins Queen Elizabeth National Park and together these protected areas uphold over a 180km long migration corridor for the wildlife. This stretch (corridor) extends from Ishasha- the remote southern section of Queen Elizabeth, to Sebitoli Forest in the northern part of Kibale.
The central and northern part of the park are dominated by tropical Forest vegetation on the raised Fort Portal plateau and savanna in the southern part, on the Rift Valley floor.
Kibale is highest at the park’s northern tip which stands 1590m above sea level and the lowest point is 1100m on the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley to the south.
Additionally, the wettest area is Northern Kibale, receiving a mean annual rainfall of up to 1700mm, mainly during March-May and September-November. The climate is generally pleasant with a mean annual temperature range of 14 to 270C. Temperatures are highest in the south where the terrain drops down to the hot rift valley floor and forest provides way to open grassland and Kibale-Fort Portal region is one of Uganda’s most pleasing places to explore in this part of the country.
People and the Park
People living around the park are mostly the Batooro– an indigenous group and the Bakiga– who are immigrants from the densely populated southwestern part of the country. The Batooro take pride in the cultural heritage of their Kingdom, a scion of the ancient Kingdoms of Africa’s Great Lakes region where as their counterparts the Bakiga still maintain their tradition and culture expressed in the folklore, dance and language.
How to get to the park
Kibale Forest National Park can be accessed from Kampala city through two main routes by road. The first route to Fort Portal via Mubende is about 5hours to the park and visitors who use this route have chance to tour Fort Portal town (the country’s tourism city). The second and longer route runs through Masaka, Mbarara and Kamwenge to the park taking about 6 hours; this route rewards visitors with stops at the Equator-00.
Alternatively; the journey to Kibale can be cut short by use of domestic flight chartered from Kajjansi Airstrip. The park has access to two airstrips; Nyakisharara Airstrip in Mbarara which is about 2hours through Kamwenge to Kanyanchu park headquarters and Kasese airstrip which is just about 1 and half hours to the park.
Wildlife in the park
Kibale’s varied altitude supports different types of habitat, ranging from wet tropical forest on the Fort Portal plateau and semi-deciduous dry tropical forest, to woodland and savanna on the Rift Valley floor. The forest’s biodiversity makes it one of Africa’s notable research sites. The park has over 350 recorded tree species most of which are tropical rising to 55meters high and exhibiting a semi-closed canopy of stratified tree crowns; most of these trees are more than 200 years old. Among that number of tree species recorded in the park are; Ptyregota, Funtumia, Entandrophragma, Piptadeniastrum Africana, Gate trees and the “Naked Adam tree”.
The park boasts of the highest diversity and density of Primates in the heart of Africa with 13 species. Kibale is mostly known for its resident Chimpanzees with a population of more than 1,000 individuals representing the country’s highest density of these endangered creatures. Other primate specials in the forest include; the rare L’Hoest Monkey, and East Africa’s largest population of the threatened Red Colobus Monkey, the Black and White Colobus, Grey Cheeked Mangabey, Red-tailed Monkey, Potto, Bush Baby, Vervet Monkey and Olive Baboons among others.
Kibale Forest shelters a variety of birds with over 372 species including the endemic Prigogine’s Ground Thrush and six that are endemic to the Albertine Rift region namely; Black-capped Apalis, Blue-headed Sunbird, Collared Apalis, Dusky Crimsonwing, Purple Breasted Sunbird and Red-faced Woodland Warbler. Other specials in the park include; the African Pitta, Green-breasted Pitta, Black Bee-eater, Yellow-spotted Nicator, Yellow Rumped Tinker Bird, Little Greenbul, Black-eared Ground Thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Abyssinian Ground-thrush, and the Crowned Eagle.
The forest also offers refuge to mammals like the elusive forest Elephant, Buffalo, Giant Forest Hog, half a dozen Antelopes, Leopards, Hyenas, Hippopotamuses and Duikers among others. But there’s more butterflies such as Swallow tails, Charaxes and Nymphalidae. Reptiles and Amphibians are also among the endless list of the forest specials.
Located close to the park is a wildlife corridor and sanctuary known as Bigodi Wetland; managed by Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development [KAFRED] which is a community based organization aimed at conservation of biodiversity and the development of its local community through ecotourism and other environmentally sustainable businesses.
The wetland is a wildlife haven, sheltering over 8 species of Primates such as the; L’Hoest, Olive Baboons, Red-tailed Monkey, Grey Cheeked Mangabey, Blue Monkey, Black and White Colobus, and Red Colobus. It is a bird paradise with nearly 200 species and commonly referred to as “Home of the Great Blue Turaco” with species including the Ross’ Turaco, Kingfishers, Cranes, Parrots and variety of swamp endemics. On its list are the mammals comprising of the Otters, Bushbucks and swamp dwelling Sitatungas.
What to do in Kibale Forest
The park is a premier destination for Nature walks, originating from Kanyanchu visitor centre. All activities in the park are conducted on walks following various trails to experience and explore this magnificent tropical forest. The park is famously known for Chimpanzee Tracking, an exhilarating forest experience in Africa. The activity rewards visitors with sights of these delightful apes swinging and jumping in tree canopies with their pant-hooting calls, this activity allows a maximum of six persons per group and an hour is availed once visitors come across the Chimpanzees.
For those wishing for more time with the Chimpanzees, the (CHEX) Chimpanzee Habituation Experience, allows you to accompany Kibale’s researchers and habituators as they follow the Chimps during their daily activity thereby getting them used to human presence without altering their natural behavior. This is a full day activity that may lead visitors to spectacular scenes of chimps de-nesting, feeding, copulating, hunting, breast feeding, resting, patrolling and displaying until they build their new nests and retiring for the night.
With over 372species of which 60% are recorded Uganda’s forest birds, the park offers serene Bird watching encounters to birders and ornithologists. Night Nature walks allow visitors to trace unique bird species, animals and insects such as; Owls, Bats, Pottos, Bush Babies, Civets, Genet Cats and Eastern Needle Nailed; that are most active at night. Day Hikes/walks allow you to explore the forest diversity such as; looking out for the primate variety in the park. The activities usually start off in the early morning hours, mid-morning and in the afternoon and run for about 2-3 hours with the exception of the CHEX and night activities.
Trails through Bigodi Wetland lead one into a gem of diversity as you get to explore the sanctuary and partake in other exciting activities that promote the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage while benefiting the local communities as this is a community run project.
The 8km wetland allows visitors participate in guided nature walks past the board pathways and views atop a tree house tucked high in the canopy. Interpretative village walks give visitors a taste of the local cultural heritage.