KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
Kibale National Park is situated in the Western region of Uganda. The park is 795 square kilometers in size and stands at an elevation of 1,590m above sea level. It’s lowest point is 1,100m on the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley to the South. The variance in altitude supports a variety of wildlife ranging from wet tropical forests to woodland and savannah grasslands. Kibale protects moist evergreen rainforests, and is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests. In East Africa, the park sustains the last significant expanse of pre- montane forest.
The park was first established as a reserve in 1932 and formally declared a national park in 1993. Kibale National Park forms a continuous forest with Queen Elizabeth National Park, creating a 180km wildlife corridor. The park is hailed for its distinguished ecosystems; the varied tracts of tropical forest, grasslands, swamps, primates and mammal species. The park lies close to the Ndali – Kasenda crater area and is within a half day’s drive of Semuliki National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, and the Toro – Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
The park is a habitat to over 70 mammal species including; elephants, bushbucks, red and blue duikers, bush pigs, sitatungas, common warthogs, giant forest hogs, African golden cats, leopards, servals, mongooses, and otters. Lions pay occasional visits to the park. In addition to these, Kibale National Park protects several habituated chimpanzee communities. There are over 1400 individual chimpanzees found in the park. Besides chimps, there are 12 other primate species found in the park.
Kibale National Park is famous for its bountiful primate population including over 1000 individual chimpanzees and 12 other species. The black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, red colobus monkeys, velvet monkeys and olive baboons, L’hoests monkeys, are some of the other species. Pottos and bush babies are best sighted in the night. One of the most famous activities in Kibale National Park is the Kanyanchu primate walk, it takes you to Kanyanchu where the park’s primates are concentrated. Sebitoli forest is the other place that is normally visited for primate viewing.
Birds of Kibale
Kibale National Park and the adjacent Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary are a habitat to over 350 bird species, they include; the Abyssinian ground thrush, African pitta, Black-eared ground thrush, Blue-breasted kingfisher, Afep pigeon, Black bee-eater, Crowned eagle, Black-capped apalis, Nahan’s francolin, Green-breasted pitta, Brown-chested alethe, Blue-headed bee-eater, Purple-breasted sunbird, Blue-headed sunbird, Purple-breasted sunbird, Scaly-breasted illadopsis, White-naped pigeon, Brown illadopsis, Dusky crimson wing, Cassin’s spinetail, Red-chested owlet, Grey parrot, Little greenbul, Red-faced woodland warbler, Western nicator, Masked apalis, Yellow-rumped tinkerbird, Rwenzori apalis, Western nicator, Green-breasted pitta, Collared apalis, and Yellow spotted nicator.
Best time for bird watching
Bird watching in Kibale is good throughout the year but it is at its best between March – May and September – November. June – September is the main fruiting season, food is abundant, and many birds are in breeding plumage. Migratory birds can be sighted in the park between November – April. The months of December – February have the least rain, while March – May and September – November have more rain.
Tourist attractions & activities
The Ndali – Kasenda crater lakes
The Ndali – Kasenda craters are found in Kasenda, Rweetera, Kabata and Rwaihamba areas, 30km south of Fort Portal. The craters were found more than 10,000 years ago as a result of violent volcanic explosions. The location of the lakes offers a splendid view across thick greenery, the Rwenzori mountains, the Kabarole tea estates, the southern rift valley plains and Lake George. A myth has it that the lakes were created by the Chwezi ruler Ndahura who fled from his kingdom after his son Wamala had taken the throne from him.
Kibale National Park is most known for its resident chimpanzees. The park has a population of over 1500 individual chimpanzees. The most popular safari activity is the Kanyanchu primate walk which offers tourists a chance to encounter the park’s thirteen primate species, including the prized chimpanzees. Kanyanchu’s chimpanzees have been tracked for the last 25 years and chances of encountering them are excellent. Trekking excursions start at 8:00am and 2:00pm , and lasts an average of 3 hours.
The chimpanzee tracking excursions are an opportunity to encounter habituated chimpanzee families in their natural habitat. Kanyanchu’s chimp groups are accustomed to human presence and the chance of locating them is over 90%. Tourists depart from Kanyanchu Visitor Center at 8:00am, 11:00am and 2:00pm, and they last between 2 – 5 hours. Tourists who arrive early are able to register and engage in an essential briefing prior to the excursion. Once a chimp group is encountered, visitors are allowed to spend the maximum of one hour observing its members.
The perennially popular primate walk provides the chance to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Kanyanchu’s groups are accustomed to human presence – some have been observed for over 25 years – and the chance of locating them is over 90%. Walks leave Kanyanchu Visitor Centre at 08.00, 11.00 and 14.00 and last between 2-5 hours. Early arrival to allow for registration and briefing is recommended. Contact time with chimpanzees is limited to one hour; group size is limited to six visitors; participants must be aged 16 or over. Advance booking is essential.
Chimpanzee habituation experience
Chimpanzee habituation is the process of getting chimp groups accustomed to human presence. The experience is designed to give visitors a chance to accompany researchers and habituation experts into the forest. The chimpanzee groups encountered in these excursions are less accustomed to human presence as compared to those visited on primate walks. The habituation experience can be done on a full day or half-day basis depending on one’s preference. While on this excursion, tourists get the opportunity of seeing the chimpanzees leave their overnight nests between 6:00 – 6:30am. As the day progresses, they get to observe the chimpanzees feeding, hunting, copulating, breastfeeding, resting and patrolling until it is their time to build new nests at around 7:00pm. For proper arrangements to be made, early bookings are necessary.
Nocturnal forest walks
Night walks take place after dusk in Kibale Forest. Tourists are guided by the Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers who set out with their spotlights in hand. While chimpanzees and other forest residents have retired to their nests, several nocturnal creatures are leaving their hideouts at this time. Bush babies, pottos, nightjars, serval cats, tree hyrax, crickets, and tree pangolins are some of the creatures heard and seen after dusk. Night walks usually begin at 7:30pm and last for an hour and half.
Guided nature walks
The park offers guided nature walks which are done in its various locations with the aid of local guides. Walks along the boardwalk through the Magombe swamp wetlands, and Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary offer tourists the opportunity to see wildlife at close-hand. Nature lovers can sight over 200 species of birds, eight varieties of primates and numerous butterflies, along with unusual swamp vegetation.
Walks through the surrounding villages give you an encounter with the native Batooro who live in the area. These tours including visiting the village primary schools, church, and traditional healer. Tourists are taught the role of women in the village and traditional ceremonies, and the history of Bigodi is told through the story of the “Village of Two Tribes”, elucidating on how the indigenous Batooro were joined by migrating Bakiga from southwestern Uganda in the 1950s.
Income from this activity is invested in education, sanitation, health, and in initiatives aimed at improving the livelihood of local residents. The money is also used to help raise awareness of the value of biodiversity through music, dance, and drama performances done at the local schools. Tourism is a major income earner to the community.
Best time to visit
Kibale National Park is open to visitors throughout the year but the best time to visit is during the dry season between June – September and December – February. At this time, the trails are drier and chimpanzee tracking is easier. March – May and September – November mark the wet season. Game viewing is challenging during this time of the year. Ironically, this time is the best for bird watching.
There are several routes that lead to Kibale National Park;
Kanyanchu River Camp, the primary Center for tourism activities in Kibale can be accessed from Kampala, either via the north where you get to pass through Mubende and Fort Portal, or from the south via Mbarara and Kamwenge.
The northern route is shorter and quicker, with a 290km road running from Kampala to Fort Portal, followed by a 32km road reaching Kanyanchu. Sebitoli Forest Camp, a secondary tourism Center is easier to reach, it is found on Kampala road, 12km before Fort Portal town.
From Entebbe International airport, flights are available to two airstrips which are accessed by Kibale National Park; Nyakisharara airstrip in Mbarara – about 98km through Kamwenge to Kanyanchu, and Kasese airstrip, found 75km from Fort Portal town. The park can also be reached from the airstrip in Toro-Semuliki game reserve.
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