Lake Mburo National Park
Located in southeastern Uganda and about a 3-hour drive from Kampala, is lake Mburo National Park savannah park. Although smaller than the Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park savanna parks, this park has an animal within its borders that is not found anywhere else in Uganda: the impala.
Founded in 1983, the national park is 370 km2 large and located at an altitude of 1,220 – 1,828 m above sea level. The uniqueness of the park is the presence of 13 lakes of which 5 are located in the park. These lakes are fed by the Rwizi River and are connected by swamps. Some of these swamps only exist in the rainy season.
A turbulent history
Before Lake Mburo National Park was given its final destination of national park, it had a very turbulent history. In precolonial times, the area was not very popular with the shepherds with their ankole cattle equipped with huge horns. The cause was the presence of tsetse flies carrying trypanosomes. These are single-celled animals that can transmit dangerous tropical diseases. These trypanosomes were dangerous for domesticated livestock, but not for humans and wild animals. The area was also a royal hunting ground where the subjects were forbidden to herd their cattle there.
In the early 1890s, cattle plague broke out. As a result, huge numbers of cattle died, resulting in famine, which resulted in thousands of deaths. Due to the lack of livestock in the following times, the vegetation recovered in such a way that another tsetse fly infestation arose. This forced the shepherds with their remaining cattle to seek out other areas.
Control of the tsetse fly infestation
In 1945, another tsetse fly infestation broke out. This time, the flies also spread the sleeping sickness that is very dangerous for humans. Once again, the locals had to leave the area. In order to solve the problem with tsetse flies once and for all, the English colonial authorities in the 1950s resorted to a very drastic means. All wild animals would be killed, so that the bloodsucking tsetse flies would die out. Reports from that time spoke of an incredible massacre in which professional hunters were tasked with killing every wild animal. Fortunately, the authorities failed in their intent. Of certain species, enough animals survived the slaughter, so that the tsetse flies still got the necessary blood.
Deforesting the area would be a new solution. That way, the tsetse flies ran out of shade. Hundreds of square kilometres were stripped of trees and shrubs. But after the first rainy season, the secondary underlay grew so fast that the tsetse flies had enough cover to survive.
The following season, a new campaign to eradicate the tsetse fly began. Poison was sprayed on literally every square inch of the contaminated area. This had the intended result: the extermination of the tsetse fly. The price was high. Not only was the tsetse fly exterminated, almost all other insects, insectivorous birds and mammals were killed. In the early 1960s, the area was slowly but surely repopulated and part of it was reserved for the shepherds. Another part served as a game reserve.
Lake Mburo as a national park
The misery was not over when much of the area became state-owned in the 1970s. The population of wild animals that was still recovering from the mass slaughter in the 1950s was now threatened by intensive poaching. The lions that had a bad reputation among the shepherds were even exterminated locally. An additional reason was the fact that these lions attacked the cattle, but also turned into human eaters. In particular, one male lion was responsible for the loss of 80 lives.
In 1983, the area was granted national park status. About 4,500 families were forced to leave the park and build a new life elsewhere. During the darkest days of the civil war in 1986, nothing remained of the park. Facilities and infrastructure were destroyed and there was widespread poaching again.
In 1987, the then government reduced the borders of the area by 60%. A small number of people were allowed to live in the national park and fish on the lakes. However, it remained unsettled in the park.
After 1991, the national park and its inhabitants finally lost their population. The government put together a governing body for Mburo. In addition to government officials, this also consisted of representatives of the local population. Between 1991 and 1997, the human inhabitants had to leave the park again. However, the difference was that they were now awarded compensation. Since 1995, 20% of the entrance fees of the national park have benefited the locals who live around the park. With this money, clinics and schools are being built, among other things.
The landscapes of Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park consists of dense areas with many acacias and shrubs. Part of the park consists of savannah, bisected by ridges of rock and wooded gorges. Around 5 lakes in the park are papyrus swamps and riparian forests. West of Lake Mburo is the Rubanga Forest. This is a piece of original jungle with a still intact tree layer (vegetation layer consisting of the crowns of trees).
The mammals in Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park has no elephants within its borders. This explains the fact that part of the national park is so densely overgrown with various acacia species and shrubs. In areas with elephants, the landscape is constantly changing. The elephants destroy the vegetation by uprooting trees and shrubs and (partly) eating them.
Lake Mburo National Park is the only national park in Uganda where impalas live. These are slender antelopes that look a bit like Ugandan kobs in the distance. However, they are slimmer and smaller and have thinner and longer winch-shaped horns. Especially the older bucks can have impressive ‘winches’. Another animal rarely seen in Uganda’s national parks is the Burchell zebra or strip zebra. Next to Lake Mburo National Park, you will find this unique one only in Kidepo Valley National Park and Pian Upe WR (in very small numbers).
A third animal that is rare in Uganda, but can be seen in Lake Mburo National Park is the moose antelope. This is the second largest antelope species in Africa – the largest antelope species is the giant antelope. More common mammals are hippopotamus, warthog, buffalo, water buck, forest buck, oribi, common diver and topi. The primates are somewhat underrepresented, especially in relation to the other national parks. In Lake Mburo National Park you can only encounter green baboon and green meerkat. At night you have a chance at the Senegal galago, a half-ape.
Of the large predators, the leopard, the striped jackal and the spotted hyena are present, albeit in small numbers. The lion made its comeback in 2008 and now lives in a small number in Lake Mburo National Park. They are believed to have come from Akagera National Park in Rwanda. Smaller predators are also common in the park, such as mongooses and healing cats. Since these animals are often active at dusk and night, you need a little more luck to see them. In the lakes, marshes and rivers live, of course, nile crocodiles.
About 350 bird species have been observed in Lake Mburo National Park. One bird that appeals to the imagination of many birdwatchers is the shoe-pelt. Another bird that is on the wish list of birdwatchers is the water trapper, a bird about 66 cm large with a bright red beak and bright red paws. The bird looks a bit like a cross between fuut and cormorant, but lies deeper in the water. Lake Mburo National Park is one of the best places to see water pedals. On a boat trip on Lake Mburo you have a great chance to observe this wondrous bird, but also chance to see a very hidden heron-like, the whiteback wake. This bird maneuvers deftly through the low-hanging branches above the lake. You may need a little more luck, but the chances of seeing them are certainly there.
A more common species like the African bald eagle is richly represented in the water-rich Lake Mburo National Park. Along and on the water you will also find variegated kingfisher and malachite kingfisher, hammerhead, African waterral, black-headed heron and other heron species. In the papyrus swamps you can encounter rare species such as the papyrus fiskaal and white-winged bush singer, but also the papyrus canary and yellow-bellied cane singer. Other species that you can find in the papyrus swamps are reed weaver, swamp flycatcher, monk railway cuckoo, blue-breasted bee-eater and ornamental honeysucker.
When visiting Lake Mburo National Park, just keep your ears and eyes open, because the varied landscape with its marshes, watercourses, savannah and acacia forestland allows a lot to observe.