Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Located in southwestern Uganda, on the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies one of the last refuges of the mountain gorilla: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It’s a national park with a dark past. To make this clear, the name for the park consists of two words with the same meaning: the local Lukiga word “Bwindi” and the English word “Impenetrable”. Both mean: impenetrable!
The Impenetrable Forest Reserve was established in 1942. In 1992, the area was granted national park status and from then on was called Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Due to the unique status of the park, the park was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1994. The area is 331 km2 large and one of the oldest and most species-rich rainforests in Africa. Bwindi is about 25,000 years old and is home to a huge diversity of flora and fauna. To give you an idea, more than 220 tree species, more than 100 species of ferns, approximately 120 mammal species, including 11 primate species, about 350 observed bird species, 23 of which occur only in the Albertine Rift Valley, 14 species of lizards, 14 species of snakes, 28 types of amphibians, more than 200 butterfly species, 8 of which occur only in the Albertine Rift Valley, an unknown number of other insects.
In all likelihood, a large amount of plants and animals that have not yet been described.
But of course most people know Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as the area where the mountain gorilla, or more specifically, the Bwindi gorilla lives and can be visited.
How Bwindi Impenetrable National Park got its name
About 100 years ago, a family from Rwanda fled to Uganda to build a new life there. In an attempt to cross the jungle, the parents and their children came to the edge of a large impenetrable swamp that obstructed their passage. The spirits that inhabited the swamp wanted to help the family on one condition: in exchange for a safe passage through the swamp, they wanted the beautiful daughter. After two days of reflection, the parents came to a decision and threw their daughter into the swamp. Safely they reached the other side and built a new life in Uganda.
Soon the story spread through the region and people began to avoid the jungle and especially the swamp. They called the place Mubwindi bwa Nnyinamukari: the impenetrable dark swamp of Nnyinamukari (the name of the girl).
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park landscapes
The height in the park varies from 1,160 m to 2,607 m. The highest point is the Rwamunyonyiberg in the southeastern part of the park. The park consists alternately of steep ridges and deep valleys. About 2 km2 is flat: the Mubwindi and Ngoto swamp.
The primary rainforest consists of both lowland rain forest and mountain rain forest. As already mentioned, the park has more than 220 tree species – this is more than 50% of all tree species in Uganda! In some places, the area is impenetrable due to the lush vegetation.
About 5 km2 of the park is overgrown with bamboo. This bamboo forest is located in the highest part of the park at about 2,500 m.
The amount of animals in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is impressive. Still, it’s not easy to see these animals. There are so many hiding possibilities that the animals completely blend into their environment and are ‘invisible’. A large animal like the forest elephant that occurs in a population of about 30 animals in the southern part of the park is rarely seen. The forest elephant has a slightly shorter fuse than the larger savannah elephant. That’s why rangers aren’t normally so keen to start searching forest elephants. The AK47 they carry is not for decoration, but above all to shoot in the air in case of an emergency to scare away the animals.
Giant forest boar and forest boar represent the pig family in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Of the antelopes, the forest buck, Peter’s diver and yellowback diver are present in the park. The kaffer buffalo has been wiped out by poaching. Of the predators, the leopard has also been wiped out by poaching. The African gold cat, genet cat and civet cat are common in the park, but the chance to see these animals requires a fair amount of luck. Of the canines, the striped jackal is present. The Cape otter lives in the rivers.
The jungle also is home to quite a few smaller mammals, such as the endemic red-footed sun squirrel and Rwenzori sun squirrel. You can also observe 16 bat species at night, some of which do not yet have a Dutch name. Do you want to see more? Then you can also look for 16 insectivores including the endemic Rwenzori otter shrew and 39 rodent species. Cape hares can be found in open areas with grass, while the tree cliff tie is especially active at night.
The primates are abundantly present. In addition to the aforementioned Bwindi gorilla, there is another ape living within the boundaries of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: the chimpanzee. The red-tailed cat, mountain lake cat, eastern fringe monkey and green baboon are among the smaller primates found in Bwindi. The night monkeys, potto, dwarf galago are also present in Bwindi.
Like seeing mammals, observing birds in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a challenge. The best time is early in the morning. In the ‘wet’ months in particular, the birds are more active, because then many species breed. This means that the males sing in full to delineate their territory on the one hand and to lure females on the other. Especially birds that live in the undergrowth, such as the Tanganjika thrush, the star monkey and the Jacksons akalat, are difficult to see, even in the breeding season. It is often better to stay in one place for a while and listen and watch well, than to walk around all the time. Preferably find an open piece where you also have a view of the tree crowns. Something always flies by or a bird starts singing.
Of the 350 species observed, about 180 are true jungle birds. To spot these and other birds, you don’t necessarily have to be within the boundaries of the national park. Also along the edge of the park, on the public road, you can already get your species list quite full. Pay attention to the traffic!
In addition to mammals and birds, there are of course many more animals living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects, including many butterflies. An endemic reptile species that you may encounter during a visit to Bwindi, for example, is the East African three-horn chameleon. In this chameleon species, only the male carries three head horns. Amphibians such as toads and frogs can be found in the underlay of the rainforest. Everywhere you will find pools and streams. Take some time to scour the surroundings of a pool in search of amphibians. Many amphibians live at night and then make a huge amount of noise to attract partners. It is amazing how loud the sound is that these often produce small animals.
To see butterflies, you need to look for the sunny spots in the rainforest. And preferably places where wild animals have done their need. They suck up the minerals and salts that are excreted together with the stool. If you sweat very much, there is a chance that butterflies will land on your head or other bared body parts to suck up sweat.
More than 200 butterfly species have already been discovered and the counter is still running.