Forest and Mountains in Africa

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African Forest and Mountains

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The ridges of the Ruwenzoris, Mount Elgon and the Virunga volcanoes display an unrivalled scenic splendour. But even more important will be Uganda’s rich and unexplored forests which have the potential to revive the country’s tourist industry. These include the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kigezi Game Reserve and Kibale Forest Corridor Game Reserve.

The Ruwenzoris in the west, on the border with Zaire and the volcanoes in the south-west on the border with Rwanda, and Mount Elgon in the east next to Kenya offer excellent opportunities for mountain climbing, with long walks through unique flora where numerous animal species roam.

Plans are being discussed to turn part of the Ruwenzoris into a national park. The mountain ridge with the snowcapped peak of Margherita on Mount Stanley harbours elephant, buffalo, leopard, red forest duiker, giant forest hog, chimpanzee, blue monkey, Stuhlman’s monkey and the Ruwenzori hyrax. It is the only place in Uganda where the extremely rare Ruwenzori colobus can be found.

Unfortunately, if the area is not soon gazetted into a game reserve or park, it may be damaged by the slow encroachment that is already taking place. Similarly, at Mount Elgon, there is great potential for tourism although cattle raiders have made this area relatively insecure.

The third mountain corridor is the Kigezi Mountain Gorilla Reserve in the south-west, dominated by the Virunga volcanoes. The 43-squarekilometre (17-square-mile) reserve lies between the towering peaks of mounts Muhabura and Gahinga.

The Travellers’ Rest Hotel at Kisoro is the starting point for a trek to see the famous mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei). Visitors need to check with the game warden in Kabale before proceeding to Kisoro to register at the hotel, which will provide them with a guide. He only takes visitors up twice a week, preferably on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

A three to four hour climb takes you to the habitat of the mountain gorilla, though chances of actually seeing this huge primate are less than 100 percent. (A generous tip for the guide improves your chances!) But, the reserve offers other spectacular sights, including thick bamboo forest and the rare golden monkey (Ceropithecus mitis kandti), which make the climb worthwhile. Other animals to be seen include buffalo, bush-buck and giant forest hog.

The drive from Kabale to Kisoro is simply spectacular. This area is rightly referred to as the "Switzerland of Uganda", and is made up of green mountains, dangerous hair-pin bends, misty valleys, terraced fields, and idyllic lakes, such as the romantic Lake Bunyonyi, just a few kilometres from Kabale off the Kisorc, road.

Jungle walks:
In the south-west lies the 560-square-kilometre (224-squaremile) Impenetrable Bwindi Forest/ Game Sanctuary which has one of the richest forest mammal faunas in Africa with 97 species. Most special is the mountain gorilla; other mammals include chimpanzee, elephant, and several species of duiker.

This well-watered area was gazetted as a game sanctuary in 1961, mainly because of the mountain gorilla whose numbers are currently estimated at 115. This figure has dwindled since the early 1960s and the government and conservationists are therefore extremely cautious about letting visitors into this area.

Much better suited for tourists is the Kibale Forest Reserve . Together with the adjacent Kibale, Forest Corridor and Game Reserve (KFCGR) the area covers 900 square kilometres (360 square miles) close to the western town of Fort Portal, where accommodation is readily available.

The Kibale Forest Corridor and Game Reserve is quite well protected, especially around the research centre of the New York Zoological Society, only 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Fort Portal, which has been turned into a paradise for everybody who likes to walk in thick tropical rain forest. The reserve harbours the largest concentration of primates anywhere in the world: no less than 11 species can be found here in large numbers. Among them are: red colobus, black and white colobus, chimpanzee (the focus of American research), blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, L’Hoest monkey, mangabey, and olive baboon.

They can be spotted quite easily during a daytime walk through the dark pines and bright green jungle. The trek on foot has been facilitated by the 300 kilometres (186 miles) of paths and tracks which have been laid out by American researchers. A map and all the necessary information can be obtained from the research headquarters.

Other animals to be-found in the forest reserve include two species of duikers, bushpig, bushbuck, warthog, giant forest hog, waterbuck, sitatunga, serval, golden, palm and civet cat.

However, KFCGR no longer harbours many large animals. The main purpose of gazetting the area was the now quite unbelievable fact that it provided a migratory route for elephants moving along a south-north axis, all the way from Zaire to Sudan, via Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Kibale Corridor, Katonga Game Reserve and Murchison Falls!

Today, massive encroachment in the KFCGR and elsewhere clearly prohibits this type of movement. Without doubt, forests are Uganda’s most latent tourist attraction. The national parks, although spectacular, have to compete with neighbouring countries where facilities are much better.

The forests, however, are unique to Uganda, which is the only English speaking country where mountain gorillas can be seen. The population of 600 to 800 chimpanzees in KFCGR cannot easily be found elsewhere. The animals are quite easy to spot because they have become used to human beings, although this does not detract from their natural behaviour.

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