SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK
Semuliki National Park is situated in the Western region of Uganda, in Bundibugyo district on the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Semuliki lies within the Albertine rift, in the Western arm of the East African Rift. The Rwenzori mountains are to the southeast of the park, and Lake Albert is found to the north. Semuliki National Park is 220 square kilometers in size and has an altitude of 670 – 760m above sea level.
The park was first established as Semuliki Forest Reserve in 1932 and upgraded to the status of national park in 1993. The park was first managed as a forest reserve by the colonial government, and then by Uganda government’s Forest Department. In October 1993 the government made the reserve a national park, with the aim of protecting the forests as an integral part of the protected areas of the Western Rift Valley.
Semuliki is situated on a relatively flat and gently undulating landform ranging from 670 – 6pm above sea level. Because of the park’s dominantly low altitude many areas experience flooding during the wet season. The park experiences an annual average rainfall of 1,250mm, with peaks being in March – May and September – December. The park’s temperature varies from 18 to 30°C with relatively small daily variations.
People and culture
There are four distinct ethnic groups that occupy the areas near the park; the Bwamba farmers live along the base of the Rwenzoris, the Bakongo live on the mountain slopes, the Batuku are cattle keepers who dwell in the open plains, and the pygmy Batwa are native hunter – gatherers who live at the edge of the forest.
Semuliki’s forests make tremendous socio – economic impact on the communities near the park. The forests are a source of livelihood to the locals, most of them practice subsistence agriculture and depend on the forests as a source of vegetables, bush meat, fruits, herbal medicine and construction material. Over the years, the population density has increased, and agricultural activity has been declining, with no alternative source of income for the locals, a lot of pressure has been put on the park’s resources.
The park’s forests are a habitat to over 100 Basua people, a tribe of pygmy people who draw their livelihood from the forest. They majorly survive on fishing, bee-keeping and garlic growing. Tourism is an additional source of income to them, they share their culture and history with visitors through musical performances, dance and drama. For effective conservation, the Uganda Wildlife Authority involves the local communities in park planning.
The park has over 60 mammal species including; leopards, buffaloes, elephants, hippos, bush babies, civets, water chevrotains, pygmy flying squirrels, waterbucks, and warthogs. Semuliki is a habitat to nine duiker species including the bay duikers, and eight primate species including; blue monkeys, Dent’s Mona monkeys, red-cheeked mangabeys, central African red colobus monkeys, baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, and chimpanzees. The park is also a habitat to over 370 butterfly species.
Birds of Semuliki
Semuliki National Park is a habitat to over 441 bird species, including 46 Guinea – Congo species which are not easily seen in any other part of East Africa. The 8km Sempaya nature trail, the Ntandi trail, the area around the hot springs, River Kirumia, and Lake Albert, are some of the best birding spots.
The species to see while on a birding excursion in the park include; Spot-breasted Ibis, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Long-tailed Hawk, Nkulengu Rail, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black-throated Coucal, Black-Casqued wattled Hornbill, White-bellied Kingfisher, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Gabon Woodpecker, White-crested Hornbill, African Piculet, White-thighed Hornbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Lyre-tailed Honey Guide, Green-tailed Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Rufus-sided Broadbill, Xavier’s Greenbul, Northern Bearded Scrub Robin, Leaf-love, Swamp palm Bulbul, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, and the Fire-crested Alethe.
The other speceis to see include; Orange-Cheeked Waxbill, Blue-headed Crested-flycatcher, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Red-bellied Malimbe, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Crested Malimbe, Grant’s Bluebill, Blue-billed Malimbe, Great blue and Ross’s Turacos, Maxwell’s black weaver, Congo Serpent eagle, Blue swallow, White throated swallow, Western bronze napped pigeon, Black saw wing, Toro Olive greenbul, Pettit’s cuckoo shrike, Capped wheatear, Eurasian oystercatcher, Sabine’s spine tail, Oberlander’s ground thrush, Shinning blue kingfisher, Double toothed barbet, Swamp palm bulbul, Lyre tailed honey guide, Snowy headed robin chat, Northern bearded scrub robin, Lowland akalat, Red eyed puff back, Common stonechat, Little grey greenbul, Mountain greenbul, and the Western Nicator.
Tourist attractions and activities
Sempaya hot springs
The Sempaya hot springs is a pair of boiling geysers found in Semuliki National Park at the eastern most limit of the great Ituri forest of Congo basin. The springs are two; the female inner spring called Nyasimbi, and the male outer spring called Mumbugu. The springs boil at about 103 degrees Celsius, the waters are hot enough to boil eggs, cook plantain and other foodstuffs. The inner spring is believed to be the location of a female spirit responsible for fertility and child birth. And the outer spring is the location of a male spirit responsible for wealth and financial success.
The park has demarcated game viewing tracks running through the savannah grasslands of Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve. Savannah elephants, buffaloes, warthogs, crocodiles, waterbucks and Uganda kobs are a regular sight during these drives. Though rare, the pygmy hippos, elusive bush babies and leopards can be spotted. These drives take place in the morning, afternoon and evening. Nocturnal game drives are also organized for tourists desiring to encounter the park’s night creatures.
The park has 194 square kilometers of East Africa’s only lowland tropical rainforest. Semuliki ranks among the locations with a wealth of floral diversity in Africa. The park’s several climatic and ecological zones are responsible for its diversity of plant and animal life. It’s vegetation is predominantly medium altitude moist evergreen and semi deciduous forest. The cynometra alexandri tree is the most dominant plant species in the forest. The park also has tree species of a more evergreen nature and swamp forest communities. Occupying a great part of the park, the Ituri forest ranks among Africa’s most ancient and biodiverse forests. It is believed to have been in existence since the last ice age, between 12,000 – 18,000 years ago.
Guided hikes and nature walks
There are several hikes in Semuliki; the 13km Kirumia trail which runs through the heart of the forest to the Semuliki river. This trail is 8 hours, it starts at 8am and is most perfect for birders. The other trail is the Red monkey track, it is 11km and it follows the park’s eastern boarder to Semuliki river. The trail is a habitat to the rare deBrazza’s monkey. The Sempaya nature trail is 8km long, it lasts 2-3 hours and happens in the morning or afternoon.
Tourists have the opportunity to encounter the hunter-gatherer Batwa pygmy people who depend on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, tools and medicine. The Batwa display their rich cultural history through dramatized music and dance performances at Ntandi. A cultural village is currently being built so the Batwa can be able to demonstrate their former way of life prior to being evicted from the national park and forest reserve.
Best time to visit
The park can be visited any time of the year but the best time to visit is during the dry season, between the months of June – September. This is the driest time, with average temperatures of 80°F (25°C). The months of January – February are also dry. At this time animals convene around water sources making it easy to spot them especially during game drives. Occasional afternoon thunderstorms occur during these dry spells.
The months of October – December and March – May are dump and wet. Heavy rains occur at any time during this period of the year, the roads become impassable making 4×4 wheel drive vehicles a necessity.
From Kampala – Uganda’s capital, there are two major routes that lead to Semuliki National Park;
The route from Kampala – Fort Portal via Mubende is 180km. Taking about 4-5 hours, this is the shortest route.
The other route is from Kampala – Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara, and Kasese. It is 465km and lasts between 7-8 hours. With this route, tourists can stop along the way and visit Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park’s Sempaya gate is 59km from Fort Portal, and the park head quarters at Ntandi are 6km further along the road.
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