Kibale National park is found in western Uganda in Kabarole District, 35km south of Fort portal town and 320km from Kampala capital. It has an altitude range of between 1,110metres to 1,590metres above sea level. Kibale National Park covers an area of 795sq km and has one of the highest ecosystems in Africa. The park is divided into seven zones for management purposes, that is, natural reserve, civic-cultural, recreation, research, harvest, community and protection. The major emphasis, however, is on conservation, sustainable utilization and non-consumptive use of the forest. The park is a favoured destination by nature lovers for its excellent bird watching and chimpanzee tracking and having one of the highest concentrations of primates in East Africa.Interspersed with patches of grasslands and swamp, the dominant vegetation type is rainforest, spanning altitude of 1.100-1,590km and with a floral composition, transitional to typical eastern afro-Montane and western lowland forest.
At least 60 mammal species are present in Kibale forest. It is particularly rich in primates, with 13 species recorded, the highest total for any Ugandan national park. The nine diurnal primates found at Kibale are vervet, red tailed, L`Hoest`s and blue monkeys, grey cheeked mangabeys, red colobus, black and white colobus, olive baboon and chimpanzee. The Kibale forest area is the last Ugandan stronghold of the red colobus, although small numbers still survive in Semliki National park Visitors who do both the forest and swamp walk are typically expected to see a round five or six primate species.
Kibale forest offers a superlative primate viewing, but it is not otherwise an easy place to see large mammals – this despite an impressive checklist which includes lions, leopards, hippo, warthog, giant forest hog, buffalo, sitatunga, bushbuck, bush pig, elephants, peter`s, blue and red duikers. The elephants found in Kibale forest are classified as belonging to the forest race which is smaller and hairier than the more familiar savanna elephant. Elephants frequently move into the kanyanchu area during the wet season.
Attractions and activities in kibale national park
The highlight of a visit to Kibale National Park is chimpanzee tracking. The excursion begins from Kanyanchu Tourist Centre and involves walking through the forest accompanied by a ranger guide in search if the chimps. You will hear them before you see them: from somewhere A maximum of 32 visitors per day is allowed by the park management to visit the habituated group of 45 chimpanzees. Excursions begin in the morning for a maximum of sixteen people in four groups and likewise in the afternoon. Generally the chimps are easily seen in the morning since the guides normally know where they nestled the previous night. Detailed information on primates, forests, flora and fauna is normally given by the park ranger guide en-route to the chimps. Chimp sightings are not guaranteed on these walks but the chances of seeing them stands at 90%. While in the forest, expect to see other types of primates such as red-tailed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabey.
Kibale Forest National Park has more than 335 bird species recorded. A network of forest trails from the Kanyanchu Visitor Centre allows you to search for a number of species from the vicinity of the main road such as nahan’s francolin, african pitas.
There is a large block of rain forest that offers some excellent forest birding. The best forest birding is along the main road from the Kanyanchu centre. Species such as scaly francolin, marsh tchagara, the scarce grey-headed olive-back and a host of seed eaters such as fawn breasted black crowned wax-bills and green-backed twin spot, among others, can easily be spotted.
While in the forest watch out for flocks of the rare and localized white-naped pigeon in flight over head or sunning themselves on the tree tops in the early morning. Fruiting trees attract birds such as narina trogon, pied hornbill, yellow-spotted, hairy-breasted and yellow-billed barbets.
Kibale is also a good sight for joyful greenbul reasonably common and conspicuous here but inexplicably scarce else where in Uganda.
The secondary forest and thicket around Kanyanchu is also a productive birding area for the african goshawk, the majestic ground eagle and masked apalis. Large, noisy flocks of grey parrots fly over the campsite to their roost in the evening.
There is an observation tower which overlooks a small forest in the park giving you the opportunity to see the red-chested fluff tailed and a host of forest elephants.
The Bigodi wetland sanctuary in Kibale National Park is also an excellent place to see some of the special birds endemic to this habitat such as papyrus gonolek, white-winged warbler and papyrus canary among others.
For visitors who are more interested in learning more about the chimpanzees or researchers seeking field experience on chimps, the chimpanzee habituation experience involves staying with the chimps all day, taking notes on their behavior. The activity normally takes six consecutive days.
Guided nature walks can be arranged from Kanyanchu. On this nature walk expect to see a variety of trees, various species of birds and butterflies as well as other types of primates such as grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkey. The guides will also be in position to identify the various medicinal plants and animal spore. The 4.5km guided walk at Bigodi wetland sanctuary is one of the best guided bird trails in East Africa and also offers great opportunities to see other bird and primate species such as the black and white colobus monkeys among others.
Visit to the crater Lakes
The Park hosts one of the world’s densest concentrations of volcanic crater lakes. The lakes are divided into four main groups; the Kasenda cluster to the west of Kibale Forest National Park, the Katwe cluster in the part of the Rift Valley protected within the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Bunyaruguru cluster within the rift escarpment, south east of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Fort Portal cluster, North West of Fort Portal town.
The most accessible is the Kasenda cluster which formed 10years ago and consists of 60 lakes which is about 20-30km south of Fort Portal. According to a local legend, the lakes were created by the first Bachwezi King Ndahura who retired in the area. The erection of the community campsite and the Ndali Lodge has led to high influx of visitors to the crater lakes of recent.
The most common tree species are wild rubber trees, polita figs and wild palms. In addition there are water lilies, ferns and flowers such as those of the ipomea species, wetland grasses, sedges and reeds.
The park can be visited at anytime of the year but cool nights are expected during the rainy seasons of April to May and October to November. It is not an easy place to view mammals despite its checklist of 60 mammal species including lions, elephants, hippos and leopards. The tourist attractions have been developed in Bigodi, Sebitoli and Kanyanchu. To the west of the Park, there are 30 crater lakes.
Getting to the park
Kibale National Park can be accessed from Kampala using Kampala-Mityana Fort portal road. From Fort portal town, it is accessed using the Kamwenge road. Coming from Fort Portal town centre, follow the Lugard Road, northwards for about 1km and immediately before the Mpanga River, turn right and continue 12km till you reach a major junction that leads to Lake Nkuruba and Ndali lodge on the right and on the left, the road takes you straight to another 12km to Kanyanchu tourist centre which is also the centre of the tourist activities.