LAKE MBURO NATIONAL PARK
Lake Mburo National Park is situated in Kiruhura district in the Western region, close to the highway that connects Kampala to the parks in western Uganda. The park’s location is approximately 240km by road west of Kampala – Uganda’s capital and largest city. At 260 square kilometers, with an altitude of 1,220m – 1,828m above sea level, the park is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks.
With thirteen other lakes found in the region, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of the lakes lie within the park’s boarders. Although formally covered by open savannah, the park is currently dominated by woodland. This is as a result of the absence of elephants to tame the vegetation. The western part of the park is dominated by Savannah, interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges. Many lakes are lined by patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland. Also, the park is underlain by ancient precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back to more than 500 million years.
Lake Mburo National Park was first established as a controlled hunting area in 1933 and upgraded to the status of a game reserve in 1963. Prior to being upgraded to a national park in 1983, the Banyankole – Bahima residents continued to graze their cattle in the reserve. To upgrade the reserve to the status of a national park, Obote’s government intended to weaken the Banyonkole who had then supported the anti-Obote rebels. The process resulted in a cold blood massacre of 300,000 people. Because the evicted pastoralists were not compensated for their lost grazing land or assisted with resettlement, they remained hostile and resistant to the upgrade.
Out side the park, the range land was subsequently sub-divided into small ranges and subsistence farming plots. When the Obote regime finally fell in 1985, the former residents of Lake Mburo re-occupied the park’s land. The pastoralists expelled the park staff, destroyed infrastructure and killed wildlife. At the rise of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government in 1986, less than half of the park’s original land was recovered.
The park has a myriad wildlife including; buffaloes, zebras, topis, waterbucks, leopards, hippos, oribis, impalas, elands, reedbucks, jackals, warthogs, and over 310 bird species. Lake Mburo National park is the best place to encounter acacia dwelling birds in Uganda, forest species are present in Rubanga forest, and six papyrus endemics including; the Blue-headed Coucal and Papyrus Gonolek are resident in the various swamps. Southern species including; the Southern Ground Hornbill and Black-collared Barbet are also found in the park. Several migratory birds are spotted in the months of November – April.
The other bird species found in the park include; Abyssinian ground hornbill, Blue-breasted kingfisher, African finfoot, Mosque swallow, Greater painted-snipe, African scoops owl, Hairy-breasted barbet, Bare-faced go-away bird, Brown-chested lapwing, Carruthers’s cisticola, Papyrus yellow warbler, Yellow-rumped tinkerbird, Tabora cisticola, White-winged swamp warbler, Red-faced barbet, Rufous-bellied Heron, Bateleur, Grey Crowned Crane, Red-headed Lovebird, Coqui Francolin, Black-bellied Bustard, Brown Parrot, Ross’s Turaco, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Common Scimitarbill, Green Wood-hoopoe, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-faced Barbet, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, White-headed Barbet, Long-tailed Cisticola, Nubian Woodpecker, White-winged Tit
Bird watching is best done in; the swampy valleys of Warukiri and Miriti, along the roadsides between Rwonyo camp and the jetty, the well situated viewing platforms at the salt lick, and in Rubanga forest. Rubanga forest can be visited using a vehicle or by foot. Lake Mburo National Park is an outstanding birder’s paradise.
Best time for birding
Bird watching in Lake Mburo National Park is good throughout the year but the months of June – July are the best for the activity since they have the least rains. Migratory birds are seen in the park between the months of November – April. The months of March – April have the most rains, during this time roads are impassable and the hiking trails are slippery. As a result, bird watching is inevitably delayed or limited.
Tourist activities & attractions
Boat trips on Lake Mburo
A boat voyage takes you to the wildlife rich eastern banks of Lake Mburo. While on the 2 hour cruise, tourists are able to sight buffaloes, crocodiles, and hippos basking at the water banks. Also, the areas around the lake are a habitat to several birds including; Kingfishers, fish eagles, hammerkops, and the elusive Shoebill. Voyages depart from Rwonyo jetty every two hours starting at 8am.
Lake Mburo National Park has a good network of game tracks passing through a variety of landscapes featuring; wetlands, acacia woodlands, rock outcrops, grassy hillsides, and seasonally flooded valley floors. Early mornings and late afternoons are best time to embark on game viewing drives. Also, nocturnal game drives have been availed to visitors. They start after dusk and while on them, tourists spot nocturnal creatures like the nightjars, pottos, bushbabies, and leopards. Night drives last 2 – 3 hours.
Guided hikes and nature walks
Tourists can take walks in any part of the park in the company of a ranger guide. A guided walk at the Rwonyo leads to the salt lick where many animals can be seen licking the salty rocks. Walks on the western side of the lake start at 7am and last two hours. During this time, visitors can encounter hyenas and other night creatures returning to their hideouts. Hippos can also be sighted retreating to the lake. Guided hikes through the woodlands provide an opportunity to see forest birds and mammals, and walks to the top of the hill are an opportunity to see the spectacular view of nine of the region’s fourteen lakes. Rubanga forest is also a great destination for birding and nature walks. For effective arrangements, walks are booked in advance.
Lake Mburo is a habitat to more than 6 species of fish including the tilapia. The park’s designated fishing spot is at Mazinga. Tourists desiring to fish are advised to carry their own fishing equipment and also obtain a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Horseback riding is organized at Mihingo lodge. The excursion is an opportunity to sight a myriad wildlife including; buffaloes, elands, warthogs, bushbucks, duikers, impalas, topis, and zebras. Visitors are able to ride to the hilltops with opportunities for bush breakfasts and camp fires.
Best time to visit
Lake Mburo National Park is open throughout the year but the best time to visit the park is during the dry season between June – August and December – February when animals gather around the lake and other water sources. The wet season is between March – May and September – November, the rains are somewhat heavy during these months but game viewing is still ok, and the park is lush and scenic.
The park lies between Masaka and Mbarara in the Western Uganda, about 228km from Kampala. There are two main entrance gates that enter the park from Mbarara town; the Nshara gate is 13km past Lyantonde, and the junction for Sanga gate is at Sanga trading Center, 27km past Lyantonde. There are clear signposts on both junctions. Each gate is within a 20 minutes drive distance to Rwonyo camp.
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