Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (1°07'S x 29°65'E) is a World Heritage Site located in south-western Uganda at the junction of the plain and mountain forests. The area covers 33,000 hectares (ha) and is known for its exceptional biodiversity, with more than 200 species of trees, over 100 species of ferns, more than 350 birds and over 200 butterflies, as well as many endangered species, including the mountain gorilla.
In the Kigezi (Rukigi) Highlands of southwestern Uganda overlooking the western rift valley, within the Districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Kanangu. The Park borders the Democratic Republic of Congo on the west. The nearest main town is Kabale 29 kilometers (km) by road to the south-east: 0°53' to 1°08'S x 29°35' to 29°50'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1932: The present northern and southern sectors of the forest were gazetted as Kasatora and Kayonza Crown Forest Reserves respectively, covering an area of 20,700 ha
- 1942: The two reserves were combined and extended into the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest Reserve covering 29,800 ha
- 1964: The entire Reserve was gazetted an animal sanctuary under the Game Preservation & Control Act of 1959, as amended 1964, to grant additional protection to the mountain gorillas
- 1966: Two local forest reserves incorporated into the reserve increasing the area to 32,080 ha
- 1991: Bwindi gazetted as a National Park by Statutory Instrument No.3,1992, National Parks Act,1952, with the Rwenzori Mountains and Mgahinga Gorilla Reserves
- 1994: The Mbwa tract (1,000 ha) incorporated
Public. The park is owned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a parastatal government body. Protection is total, although a multiple use program is being developed through which peripheral communities can access some resources from the Park.
1,190 meters (m) to 2,607 m. The lowest point occurs in the northernmost tip of the park; the highest is Rwamunyonyi hill on its eastern edge.
Bwindi is extremely rugged, characterized by steep hills and narrow valleys, with a general incline from the north and west to the high deeply dissected south and southeast. 60% of the Park is over 2,000 m high.Together with some remnant lowland forest outside the boundary, the Park is an important water catchment area serving surrounding agricultural lands. Three major tributaries of the Ishasha River drain into Lake Edward to the north; the Ndego, Kanyamwabo and Shongi Rivers flow southwards towards Lake Mutanda. There is an 80 ha swamp at Mubwindi in the central of the south. The area is associated with the upwarping of the western rift valley. Its underlying rocks are phyllites and shales, with some quartz, quartzite and granite outcrops of the Karagwe-Ankolean system. The soils are mainly humic red loams, moderately to highly acidic and deficient in bases. Over 60% has been logged and owing to the steepness of slopes, the soils are very susceptible to erosion in areas where trees have been cleared.
The climate is tropical with two rainfall peaks from March to May and September to November. The annual precipitation lies in the range 1,130-2,390 millimeters (mm). The annual mean temperature ranges from a minimum of 7-15°C to a maximum of 20-28°C.
Bwindi is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane vegetation communities meet. It is representative of the Afromontane Centre of Plant Endemism and the northern sector is rich in species of the Guineo-Congolian flora. It is also a Pleistocene refugium, all of which have resulted in extremely high biodiversity. Current evidence indicates that for trees Bwindi is one of the most the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 200 species, and for ferns with more than 104 species. In recognition of this, Bwindi was selected by IUCN's Plant Programme as one of Africa's 29 most important forests for conserving plant diversity. The forest gets the name 'impenetrable' from the dense cover of herbs, vines and shrubs growing in the valley bottoms. The area is broadly classified as medium altitude moist evergreen forest and high altitude forest.
Approximately 40% of the forest is medium-rich to rich mixed forest, including key species such as red stinkwood Prunus africana, nationally threatened Newtonia buchanani, Symphonia globulifera, Chrysophyllum pruniforme, Podocarpus spp. and Strombosia scheffleri. There are three presumed climax communities which tend to single-species dominance, the dominant depending on altitude. In low-lying areas around 1,500 m, Parinari exelsa is dominant, covering about 10% of the Park; around 2,000 m Newtonia buchananii covers about 11% of the Park); and at around 2,200 m Chrysophyllum gorungosanum dominates about 8% of the park. Almost 30% of the park is occupied by low stature communities, classified as poor, hill and colonizing types. There are also small areas of swamp and grassland. Bamboo forest is restricted to less than 100 ha. The trees of Bwindi are not particularly well known, and the current list may be far from complete. Nevertheless, the list of 200 species (47% of the country's total) includes 12 species not found elsewhere: Allanblackia kimbiliensis, Balthasaria schliebenii, Croton bukobensis, Grewia milbraedii, Guarea mayombensis, Maesobotrya purseglovei, Memecylon spp., Strombosiopsis tetrandra and Xylopia staudtii. There are two internationally threatened species, Lovoa swynnertonii, Brazzeia longipedicellata and a further 16 species have a very limited distribution in south-west Uganda.
Bwindi is believed to have the richest faunal community in East Africa and is an important locality for the conservation of Afromontane fauna endemic to the mountains of the western rift valley. Highly significant is the presence of over a third of the world's population of mountain gorillas Gorilla gorilla berengei numbering about 300 out of 674, living in some 23 family units. This population may be a distinct subspecies, more closely related to Gorilla gorilla graueri. It has shorter hair, slightly longer limbs and lives at lower altitudes than the Virunga population. The Park also holds 120 species of mammals including 14 species of primate. Other globally threatened species include eastern chimpanzee Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi in the only place where its range overlaps with the gorilla's, l'Hoests guenon Cercopithecus lhoesti and African elephant Loxodonta africana which are estimated at 30 individuals. Other primate species include black-and-white colobus Colobus guereza, red-tailed guenon C. ascanius schmidti, blue guenon C. mitis mitis, vervet C. aethiops, and olive baboon Papio anubis plus nocturnal prosimians. In addition, there are bushpig Potamochoerus larvatus, giant forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus, yellowbacked and blackfronted duiker Cephalophus sylvicultor and C. nigrifrons. Buffalo were poached to extinction in the late 1960s. Recently the existence of 47 rodent and 20 shrew species has been confirmed.
Some 350 species of birds have been recorded. At least 70 of the 78 montane forest bird species occurring in the Albertine Rift region are found in the forest, including 22 of the 36 endemics. 12 species of bird occur only in Bwindi and in some cases in the neighboring highland forests of south-west Kigezi within Uganda. Key species are the dwarf honeyguide Indicator pumilio, African green broadbill Pseudocalyptomena graueri, Lagden's bushshrike Malaconotus lagdeni, Kivu ground thrush Zoothera tanganjicae, Oberlander's ground thrush Z. oberlaenderi, Grauer's rush warbler Bradypterus graueri, Chaplin's flycatcher Muscicapa lendu and dusky crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi. Other rare birds are Fraser's eagle owl Bubo poensis, white-bellied robin chat Cossypher roberti, Grauer's warbler Graueria vittata, short-tailed warbler Hemitasia neumanni, yellow-eyed black flycatcher Melaenornis ardesiaca, montane double-collared sunbird Nectarinia ludovicenis and dusky twinspot Clytospiza cinereoinacea.
The forest may also be the most important in Africa for the conservation of montane butterflies. 202 species occur (84% of the country's total) with 8 Albertine Rift endemics. 3 butterflies occur only in Bwindi: the cream-banded swallowtail Papilio leucotaenia, Graphium gudenusi and Charaxes fournierae, It also has the threatened African giant swallowtail Papilio antimachus.
No archaeological sites are known inside the park, although the wider Kigezi region may have been occupied from as early as 37,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of forest clearance dates back 4,800 years, most likely due to the presence of the Batwa pygmies, hunter-gatherers who were the original inhabitants of the forest and manipulated the vegetation with fire. This is the earliest evidence for cultivation anywhere in tropical Africa. It was not until approximately 2000 years ago that Bantu agriculturalists arrived in the region. The extensive knowledge of wild animals and plants possessed by the Batwa people is threatened with disappearance unless their way of life is restored, or their knowledge condensed onto paper.
Local Human Population
Bwindi lies in one of the country's most densely populated rural areas, with figures ranging between 160 and 320 people/km2 at different locations around the forest. Approximately 10,000 families belonging to three Bantu peoples, the Bachiga, Bafumbira and Barwanda cultivate the land immediately surrounding the park. Also present are between 50 and 100 Batwa families who live as landless laborers following their eviction from the forest in 1964. They were completely dependent on forest resources and have received limited compensation. Initially there was strong opposition to the loss of forest resources from the local people who were also excluded from decision-making about the forest, but most now appear to respect the Park and show constraint in their use of its resources. However, large numbers do extract wood, bamboo, honey, bushmeat and gold and only about 10% of the forest remains free from human disturbance. Between 100 and 300 people were employed in pit-sawing in 1983 over 61% of the park, between 60 to 120 in hunting and collecting bushmeat, (24%), a further 100 to 200 people work in gold panning and mining (6%); and also collecting building poles, fuelwood, bamboo, honey and medicinal plants. Livestock are raised over 10% and footpaths over 67% of the Park. No forest remains immediately outside the Park, but commercial mechanized logging has not occurred within it owing to the ruggedness of the land.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
Following the preparation of a tourism development plan by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) in 1992, Bwindi opened for mountain gorilla tourism in April 1993. The park became a major tourist destination following the collapse of gorilla tourism in Rwanda due to civil war, and the absence of law and order in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 1991 and 1997 some 3,600 tourists visited Bwindi each year, and the park earned approximately US $1 million per year. Visitor numbers are tightly controlled, and a permit is needed to enter Bwindi and join a guided tour tracking groups of gorilla, of which one has become habituated to man. Only 12 permits are issued per day, costing US$275 for foreign non-residents, US$210 for foreign residents, and 80,000 Ug.shillings (US$55) for citizens. These fees can also be paid in Uganda Shillings or GB Pounds.
There are various tourism facilities in Buhoma: A & K Tented Delux Camp, African Pearl Safaris, Mantana Tented Camp, Homestead, Hot Ice tented camp, Buhoma Community Camp and two other camp sites. Another station, Ruhija 50 km away, offers facilities for birdwatchers. In August 1993, private concessions were awarded to tour operators allowing the development of accommodation at selected sites around the forest. The Kenyan company Abercrombie and Kent operates a luxury tented camp concession. The IGCP and Uganda Wildlife Authority built a visitor centre at Buhoma, produced educational material for visitors and trained guides in forest ecology. In 1999 the center was destroyed by Rwandan Hutu rebels who killed 8 westerners. However, Uganda's President has since toured the Park to show that security has been restored.
Scientific Research and Facilities
A survey of the conservation status of the park was carried out by Harcourt in 1979, and an ecological survey was later made by Butynski of the New York Zoological Society. In 1986, the Impenetrable Forest Conservation Project (IFCP) was set up at Ruhija, staffed by a full time expatriate, 5 graduate counterparts and 20 assistants. The site now contains a library and laboratory equipment, with accommodation and facilities for up to 60 people. Howard undertook a further survey of the forest in September 1986 as part of a large-scale Forest Department inventory. Further studies of the avifauna were conducted by Butynski and Kalina. In 1991, the facilities of IFCP were developed into the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) at Ruhija, to act as a field station for Mbarara University of Science and Technology. The main aims of the Institute are to systematically inventory the fauna and flora, initiate conservation programs, and assess the population, distribution and particular requirements of the mountain gorillas. Working in close collaboration with ITFC is the Development Through Conservation (DTC) project of the Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARE) which is researching the economic needs of the local community, training Ugandan students in inventory techniques and ethnobotany, and running extension programs with local farmers. In 1996 the Bwindi Impenetrable Great Ape Project began a long-term study of local gorillas and in 1998 a research station was built at Camp Kashasha next to the Park, funded by the National Geographic Society and the University of Southern California.
Bwindi is an ecological island forest of international importance and is the richest conservation area in Uganda owing to the exceptional diversity of both its flora and fauna. Its faunal community is considered to be East Africa’s richest due in part to its extensive lowland-montane forest continuum. This includes many Albertine Rift endemics and six globally threatened species including the habitat of more than a third of the world's population of mountain gorillas.
Until 1994, the management plan for Bwindi emphasized simultaneous preservation of forest cover with maximum sustainable timber production. Unfortunately, after 1971, Forest Department management structures collapsed, leading to massive illegal exploitation of the forest for timber, bushmeat, gold, building materials, cultivation and livestock grazing. Stabilization has now occurred following the establishment of the Impenetrable Forest Conservation Project in 1986, and other Forest Department and Wildlife Authority initiatives. In addition to law-enforcement, the main achievements to date are in species inventory and monitoring, research, staff training, and demarcation and securing of park boundaries. In combating the threat of agricultural encroachment, the Uganda Wildlife Authority is assisted by the CARE Development Through Conservation (DTC) and the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT) project which has promoted good relations with the local community through a large-scale tree-nursery program. In addition to its out-forest work, DTC has also studied in-forest resource use and zoning strategy. A tourism plan has been in use since 1993. The People and Plants initiative of WWF and UNESCO has trained 13 Ugandans to MSc level in ethnobotany and an overall management plan has been jointly prepared by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, CARE-DTC and local communities.
Although there is no evidence of gorilla hunting in the forest since 1995 when four gorillas from a habituated group were killed, poaching for antelope, pigs and other large mammals is common. It is reported that infant gorillas have been taken to be sold to private collectors. Tourism is currently tightly controlled in the park, but the demand for gorilla tracking is growing. Tourism poses a great threat to Bwindi's mountain gorilla population in two ways: through habituation and thus increased vulnerablilty to poachers, and through disease transmission, although only healthy tourists are allowed to enter the park. Gorilla-tracking protocols of the kind proposed in the tourism development plan must be adhered to strictly if the gorillas are not to be put at risk. A lack of Ugandan wildlife veterinarians also limits the the gorilla tourism project. The forest skills of the Batwa indigenes qualify them well to become guides and to monitor and control wildlife, but as they are illiterate, they are not employed as rangers by UWA.
Relatively intensive logging also occurs in certain areas, as does the extraction of gold and charcoal. Consistent help from IFCP and DTC has enabled the Forest Department and UWA to reduce most illegal activity to sustainable levels. But the position of Bwindi as an isolated forest surrounded by a densely settled local population which makes agricultural encroachment the major threat to the integrity of the forest. The lack of community participation in park management, plus a low level of public awareness in conservation, exacerbate the human threat. Unless the measures proposed in the current general management plan are implemented quickly, and future conservation efforts closely involve local communities, encroachment is likely in future. Park authorities are currently working with the ITFC on plant resources research, to enable local people to harvest useful forest plants on a sustainable basis. A benefit-sharing program is being developed for the local community in which a percentage of the entrance fees is set aside for financing projects such as building schools and health clinics in compensation for gorilla inroads into crops, winning local interest in gorilla conservation in place of hostility.
The park is headed by a Chief Park Warden at Kabale assisted by five Wardens: two for tourism, research and monitoring, and one each for community conservation, law enforcement and security, and an accounts assistant. There were in 1997 42 rangers, 9 ranger-guides, 6 community conservation rangers, four trackers, five porters and six office staff, working from stations at Ruhiszha and Rushaga.
20% of the Park’s income is used for management, 20% for research and 12% for community development, but owing to rebel incursions this income has diminished. Funds are short and staff numbers have recently been cut to permit realistic salaries to those who remain. IGCP has been funded variously by the WWF, FFI, the African Wildlife Fund and USAID and much of the funding has gone to pay the salaries of the rangers during the civil unrest. In the MBIFCT project the World Bank and GEF have also set aside funds for Bwindi.
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994. Natural Criteria iii, iv
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