Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi, in the Kigezi Highlands of south-west Uganda, adjacent to the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is characterized by steep hills and narrow valleys with a general incline from the north and west to the south-western corner. The park constitutes an important water catchment area serving the surrounding densely populated agricultural land and is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane vegetation communities meet. Three major tributaries of the lshasha River drain into Lake Edward to the north, and the Ndego, Kanyamwabo and Shongi rivers flow southwards towards Lake Mutanda.

In geological terms, the area is associated with upwarping of the western rift valley and its underlying rocks are phyllites and shales, with some quartz, quartzite and granite outcrops. The soils are mainly humic red loams. Due to the steepness of the slopes, the soils are very susceptible to erosion in areas where trees are cleared. Combined with its probable role as a Pleistocene refuge, the forest hosts an extremely high biodiversity.

Bwindi is the most diverse forest in East Africa for tree species (more than 163) and ferns (more than 104), as well as other taxa. A further 16 species have only a very restricted distribution in south-west Uganda, and one species, Lovoa swynnertonii , is globally threatened. The forest gets the name 'impenetrable' from the dense cover of herbs, vines and shrubs inhabiting the valley floor. Bwindi has one of the richest fauna communities in East Africa, including over 214 species of forest bird, 7 species of diurnal primate, 120 species of mammals and 202 species of butterfly. Highly significant is the presence of almost half of the world's population of mountain gorillas. Bwindi is also an important locality for the conservation of Afromontane fauna, in particular those endemic to the mountains of the western rift valley. Overall, Bwindi contains nine globally threatened species: mountain gorilla, common chimpanzee, l'Hoest's monkey Cercopithecus l'hoesti , endangered species of African elephant, African green broadbill, Grauer's rush warbler, Chaplin's flycatcher, African giant swallowtail and cream-banded swallowtail. Buffalo were poached to extinction in the late 1960s, as were leopard more recently.

No archaeological sites are known inside the park, although the wider Kigeti region may have been occupied from as early as 37,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of forest clearance dates back 4,800 years, most likely due to the presence of the Batwa (hunter-gatherer) people manipulating vegetation with fire. This is the earliest evidence for cultivation anywhere in tropical Africa.

Bwindi lies in one of the country's most densely populated rural areas in different locations around the forest. Approximately 10,000 families belonging to the Bachiga, Bafumbira and Barwanda (all Bantu) peoples cultivate the land immediately surrounding the park. Commercial logging has never taken place in Bwindi due to the rugged terrain.

Historical context

In 1932, what are now the northern and southern sectors of the forest were gazetted as Kasatora and Kayonza Crown Forest Reserves respectively, covering a total area of 20,700ha. Later, in 1948, the two reserves were combined and extended into the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest Reserve covering 29,800ha (Forest Act, 1947, amended 1964). Two local forest reserves were then incorporated into the central reserve in 1961, increasing the gazetted area to 32,080ha. In the same year, the entire reserve was gazetted an animal sanctuary (Game Preservation and Control Act, 1959, amended 1964) in an effort to grant additional protection for the mountain gorillas. Bwindi was finally upgraded to a national park in 1991 (Statutory Instrument No.3, 1992, National Parks Act, 19521, along with the creation of two other mountain national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori Mountains and Mgahinga Gorilla. This final change was accompanied by incorporation of the 1,OOOha Mbwa tract.