Bwindi is situated in the south-west of Uganda, part of an area known as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It is next to Virunga N.P., where the Virunga Mountains rise as high as 4,500 metres, forming a very dramatic backdrop. With its own steep hills, some well over 2,500 metres, Bwindi is pretty impressive itself.
The national park was established in 1991, bringing together three reserves – the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve, the Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve, and the Rwenzori Mountains Reserve. All of these had been set up in the 1960s, for the purpose of protecting the resident mountain gorillas. In April 1993, it became possible for travellers to track the gorillas; in 1994, the national park was added to the World Heritage List, following the addition of an area measuring 10 square kilometres.
A further 4.2 square kilometres was bought for Bwindi in 2003, and to this day gorilla tracking brings a lot of revenue to park managers Uganda Wildlife Authority. The mission of the UWA includes conserving, economically developing, and sustainably managing the wildlife of this beautiful part of the world.
Bwindi really is spectacular. Those steep hills are cloaked in deep forest, a mixture of many different types of trees. This type of forest is known as Afromontane and it is a feature of the Albertine Rift, which runs through the park. During the wet seasons, which are March to April and September to November, the forest functions as a water catchment area. The rains drip down the trees to form streams, an excellent water source for the gorillas and many other species. The high density of forest also causes a phenomenon known as evapotranspiration, in which water transfers from both the soil and the trees to the atmosphere – and further rain results.
There is plenty to eat in Bwindi too. Research by Craig Stanford, a professor of biological sciences and anthropology, has shown that the diet of the park’s gorillas is rich in fruit. They also consume a lot of foliage. And all those trees serve another important purpose – the gorillas build nests within them.
Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable N.P. is a wonderful wildlife experience. Other activities available include guided walks and birding. You can go monkey watching too, as the park contains black-and-white colobus, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey, and L’Hoest’s monkey, which has a striking white beard. There are also elephant, common chimpanzee, side-striped jackal, golden cat, civet, giant forest hog, and some small antelopes. And there are over 350 types of bird!