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Forests of the Albertine Rift Valley

Budongo Forest

Budongo forest is part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area and ecosystem and it covers 793 sq kilometers in size, of which only 53% is forested and the rest is grassland. It has an average altitude of 900 – 1000 meters. Budongo is important for its high biodiversity, counting 24 species of mammals, of which 9 are primates; 464 species of plants, 359 birds species, 289 species of butterflies. The most relevant feature of Budongo is the presence of chimpanzees, about 600 from the survey carried out in 2002 by Jane Goodall Institute. Since the 1990s three groups of chimpanzees were studied by researchers; these are Kaniyo Pabidi, Sonso and Busingiro.

Budongo forests has a long history of problematic relations between the forest authorities and the population of farmers and hunters. Commercial hunting has always affected the forest and one of the negative impacts of this is the use of snares or jaw traps made from wire by hunters. Chimpanzees and other monkeys have reported many injuries due to this use. Researchers in Budongo and Kibale reported that about 25% of chimpanzees had snare-related injuries. Another impact of the human pressure over the forest is the change in the original habitat, by replacing the traditional figs trees (whose fruits are good for the chimpanzees) with fast growing commercial trees like eucaliptus, more useful for fire wood and for timber, however reducing the food opportunities for the primates.

The National Forestry Authority in cooperation with Jane Goodall Institute has undertook several projects for sensitization of the local communities over the importance of protecting the forest and safeguard the life of the chimpanzees. The best achievement was the introduction of the eco-tourist site, where tourists can access one of the best “chimpanzee trekking” activities in Uganda, which generate direct incomes from the forest. Moreover, other tourist activities and a lodge were opened, a clear signal that the forest can have a positive impact on the livelihood of the people.

Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest is part of Queen Elizabeth National Park ecosystem and it covers 766 sq meters along the Rwenzoris. It was gazetted as national park in 1993 and it ranges between 1100 and 1590 meters on altitude. Kibale boasts 325 birds species, 351 trees species and 12 species of primates. This includes the chimpanzees (1420 individuals according to 2002 survey by Jane Goodall Institute), L’Hoest monkey, red tailed monkey, blue monkey, red colobus monkey, black and white colobus monkey, olive baboons, mangabey, the nocturnal bush baby and potto.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority in cooperation with Jane Goodall Institute established in 1997 the ecotourism project in Kibale forest. Among the other activites carried out, the sensitization of the community against poaching and for the protection of the forest, the snare removal project (it was found that over 25% of the chimpanzees in the forest has snare related injuries), and the chimpanzee habituation program. This has made Kibale forest one of the leading sites for chimpanzee trekking: not only chimpanzee walk is available, but in certain periods of the year and for a limited number of people it is organised the “chimpanzee habituation experience”, a full day immersion directly in contact with the primates.

Bwindi Forest

Bwindi forest is protected within the borders of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, 331 sq km located in South Western Uganda, on the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and bordering Congo. The park has an altitude range between 1160 meters to 2600 meters above sea level. The landscape is a mountain tropical forest, millions of years old and untouched. His biodiversity is unique for Africa and for the world, as it is home to 350 speciesm of birds, 310 species of butterflies, 324 species of trees, 120 species of mammals including 10 species of primates. These are: the mountain gorillas (estimated 350 individuals only), L’Hoest Monkey (estimated 1100 members remaining), red tailed monkey (about 5.500), blue monkey (about 3100), black and white colobus (about 400), olive baboons (about 1100), the chimpanzees (about 860), potto, Demidoff’s galago and needle-clawed galago.

The forest was first protected for its vital water catchment value. In recent decades the forest was reduced due to wood cutting, mining and land clearing for farming. Population increase puts a lot of pressure on the tiny forest, where even in its own heart you can phisically see cattle rearing and human activities taking place. The area was not densely settled until 100 years ago, when the Bantu farmers (Bakiga) came from the areas of Congo and Rwanda and begun the intensive clearing, displacing the actual residents of the forest the Batwa as well as the pastoralists. The forest became protected area in 1961 covering 321 sq km, however intensive deforestation was taking place in the whole area between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The creation of the actual Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on 13th August 1991 was meat to save what remained of the ancient forest and also for the protection of the mountain gorillas. In December 1994 Bwindi was declared Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Previous mining activities like iron, gold, tungsten mining were banned but still constitute a threat to the forest.

The most important policy introduced by Uganda Wildlife Authority for the protection of Bwindi was to include the local communities in planning and receiving direct benefits from tourist activities. The mountain gorilla trekking is the most important tourist activity, which started in 1994 with the opening of Mubare family.

Nyungwe Forest

Nyungwe forest is protected as national park and it covers 970 sq kl of montane tropical forest in South western Rwanda, extending further into Burundi with the name of Kibira forest. Nyungwe ranges at an altitude of 1600 to 2950 meters above sea level. It is the largest intact forest of East Africa and so rich in biodiversity, home to 86 species of mammals, 280 birds, 120 butterflies, about 200 orchids, 200 tree species.

The main interest of the forest is the presence of the primates and the organised guided trekking. There are 13 species of primates in Nyungwe: the chimpanzees (more than 1000 recorded), Black & White Colobus, the Rwenzori colobus, L’Hoest monkey, the silver monkey, the owl faced monkey, the red tailed monkey, mona monkey, vervet monkey, olive baboon, grey cheeked mangabey.

Nyungwe forest was less vulnerable to human pressure and deforestation than other forests. The Wildlife Conservation Society in cooperation with the ORTPN carries out several projects in Nyungwe, including community sensitization about the sustainability of the forest and anti-poaching; moreover they do research on the flora and fauna.

The major tourist activity is the chimpanzee trekking which takes place in two different sites, Uwinka and Kyamudongo.

Kahuzi Biega National Park

The Kahuzi Biega National Park was gazetted in 1970 to protect and conserve the Eastern Lowland gorillas. It covers an area of 6000 sq km in the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is made up by two different zones: on one side the mountain forest covering 600 sq km and where tourist activities are taking place, at an altitude of 1800 m to 3300 m; on the other side the tropical forest between 600 m and 1200 m, which is largely unprotected and situated in the central basin of Zaire. The mountain forest is surrounding the main mountains which give the name to national park, Mount Kahuzi (3.308 m) and Mount Biega (2.790 m).

There are 13 species of primates in the park: first of all the chimpanzees, Dwarf galago, Bosman’s potto, Red tailed monkey, Blue monkey, Mona monkey, owl-faced monkey, L’Hoest monkey, Grey-checked mangabey, red colobus, Angolan Black and white colobus.

Kahuzi Biega National Park Map

Kahuzi Biega forest, like other forests in central Africa, has seen increasing clearance by burning activities for cultivation. In recent decades poaching was documented, by increasing occurrence of snares and nooses. Especially gorillas and monkeys have been much affected by injuries. Moreover, the region of Kivu is rich in minerals like gold and this has created pressure over the forest. It is estimated that more than 9000 Bashi, Batembo and Barega (Rega) people are leaving in the park, in the lower forests.

The most important tourist activity in the park is the lowland gorillas tracking from the visitors centre of Tshivanga. Actually, in the history of gorilla tourist activities, Kahuzi Biega is the first national park introducing the gorilla trekking, back in 1975.

In 2010 there are three habituated families, Chimanuka, Mankoto and Mugaruka. With ten families of gorillas remaining in the park area, the estimated number of gorillas today is 140 individuals only. A previous survey conducted in 1992 was showing the presence of 25 families with a total number of 284 individuals. The political turmoil which followed during the 90th and till recent time has affected much the conservation of the species.