Kibale Forest National Park contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. It is home to a host of Forest wildlife, most famously 13 species of Primate including Chimpanzee. Forest cover predominates in the northern and central parts of the park on the elevated Fortportal plateau. Kibale is highest at the Parks northern tip which stands 1590m above sea level. Northern Kibale is also the wettest area, receiving a mean annual rainfall of up to 1700mm, mostly during MAR – MAY and SEP – NOV. The climate is generally pleasant with a mean annual temperature range of 14 – 27 degrees centigrade. Temperatures are highest and rainfall lower in the south where the terrain drops down onto the hot rift valley floor and forest gives way to open grassland.
Southern Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park and together, these protected areas maintain a 180km- long migration corridor for wildlife which extends from Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth N.P to the Sebitoli forest in the north of Kibale.
The Kibale-Fortportal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding areas to explore. The Park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda area and within a half days drive to Queen Elizabeth N.P, Semuliki N.P and the Toro-semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
Kibale National Park is located in western Uganda, 26km south-east of Fortportal town. Kanyanchu River Camp, the primary centre for Tourism activities can be reached from Kampala either from the north via Mubende and Fortportal or the south through Mbarara and Kamwenge. The northern approach is shorter and quicker, with a 300km tarmac road running to Fortportal followed by36km on murram to Kanyanchu. Sebitoli forest camp, a secondary tourism centre is even easier to reach, which stands directly on the Kampala road, 16km before Fortportal. Public transport runs throughout the day between Kampala and Fortportal, passing Sebitoli and Fortportal and Kamwenge passing Kanyanchu
ACCOMMODATION IN KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Kibale Forest National Park provides a choice of accommodation which include Kibale Primate Lodge with a selection of lodging at Kanyanchu with stone cottages, tree houses and an upmarket tented camp. Simple cottages are also found at Sebitoli. Both sites provide campsites and canteens that provide basic meals to order.
Basic and mid range accommodation is available in the nearby villages of Bigodi and Nkingo while a wider choice is to be found in the Ndali Crater area which ranges from the upmarket Ndali lodge to good budget options at Chimpanzee Guest house and Lake Nkuruba. Alternative accommodation can also be found in Fortportal town.
FLORA AND FAUNA IN KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Kibale Forests national Park’s varied altitude supports different types of habitat ranging from wet tropical forest ( moist evergreen forest ) on the Fortportal plateau, through dry tropical forest ( moist semi deciduous ) to woodland and savanna on the rift valley floor.
Around Kanyanchu in the central part of the Park, the highest forest contains a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees with the evergreen species dominant. Trees rise to over 55m and exhibit a semi-closed canopy of stratified tree crowns. The undergrowth is sparse with shade tolerant herbs, shrubs, a variety of ferns and broad leafed forest grasses. 351 tree species have been recorded in the Park.
The diversity and density of Primates in Kibale is the highest in Africa. The most famous of its 13 species is the Chimpanzee, our closest relative. Kibale’s 1450 Chimpanzees represent Uganda’s largest population of this endangered Primate. Kibale is also home to the rare L’Hoest’s monkey and East Africa’s largest population of the threatened red colobus monkey. Other Primates include the black and white colobus, blue monkey, grey cheeked mangabey, red tailed monkey, olive baboon, bush baby and potto.
Other mammals are present though rarely seen. These include forest elephant, buffalo, leopard, bushpig and duiker. A keen observer may also spot reptiles and amphibians as well as a colourful variety of butterflies.
The Park boasts 325 species of birds, including 6 that are endemic to the albertine Rift region namely; black-capped Apalis, blue-headed sunbird, collared Apalis, dusky crimson-wing, purple-breasted sunbird and red-faced woodland warbler. Other Kibale species include the African pitta, green breasted pitta, black bee eater, yellow spotted nicator, yellow rumped tinkerbird, little greenbul, black-eared ground thrush, brown chested alethe, blue-breasted kingfisher, Abyssinian ground thrush and the crowned eagle.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND ACTVITIES IN KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
A). CHIMPANZEE TRACKING ( PRIMATE WALK )
This is the most popular tourist activity and attraction of the Park with walks starting from the Kanyanchu Visitor Centre at 0800 and 1500 which lasts 2-3 hours. Chimpanzee are the Primate most sought after by visitors, but you should also look out for the black and white colobus, red-tailed monkey and grey cheeked mangabey. Your guides will point out sunbirds, pitas and other bird species and will explain the traditional uses of plant species within the forest. This walk is for six persons per group. Advance booking is very essential during peak seasons.
B). CHIMPANZEE HABITUATION EXPERIENCE
The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience allows you to accompany Kibale’s researchers and habituators as they follow Chimpanzee during their daily activities, thereby getting them used to human presence without altering their natural habitat and behavior. You can expect to see the chimps de-nesting ( coming out of their nocturnal nests ) between 0530 – 0630, before following them during the day until they create new nests and retire for the night around 1900. This habituation experience runs during the tourists low season months of MAR, APR, MAY and NOV.
C). FOREST AND NATURE WALK
The seasonal 12km walk is restricted to the dry seasons of mid NOV – FEB and JUN – SEP. It explores the Park’s diverse habitats including tropical rainforest, riverine forest, swamp and grassland. You will have the chance to see a wide variety of birds, primates and perhaps also duiker and bushbuck. The walk begins at 0800 from Kanyanchu Visitor centre and ends at the elephant wallow around 1400. You are advised to carry with you drinks and snacks while pre-booking is highly recommended.
D). BIGODI WETLAND SANCTUARY
Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is situated outside the Park in Magombe swamp and is known for a wide range of wildlife that includes primates such as chimpanzee, red colobus, black and white colobus, red tailed monkey and other mammals such as Sitatunga, bushbuck, otter and mongoose. The wetland is also home to 138 bird species which can be seen during guided walks from viewing platforms and a boardwalk trail.
The sanctuary is a community-run initiative aimed at conserving the unique biodiversity and environmental values of the wetland. You can get more information about the sanctuary at the Kanyanchu Visitor information centre.
E). KIHINGANI WETLAND
Guided walks, similar to those at Magombe are conducted in the Kihingani which is also situated outside the Park near Sebitoli.
F). CULTURAL HERITAGE AND NATURE TRAIL
The adventurous visitor can follow a 2 – 6 day trail through the forest. The walk starts or finishes at either Kanyanchu or Sebitoli. The route explores the forest during the day, emerging in the evening to sleep in community-run campsites near the village of Kikoni, Nyaibanda and Nyakalongo. These provide the opportunity to meet local people and gain insights into their Batoro and Bakiga cultures. Porters can be hired at the trailheads to carry equipments and luggage. Groups of up to 6 people can undertake the walk for which advance booking is very essential and a pre-requisite.
G). SEBITOLI FOREST CAMP
Sebitoli is located 12km from Fortportal town on the Kampala – Fortportal road. This part of the Forest offers excellent bird and primate viewing in moist evergreen forest with a semi-closed canopy of stratified tree crowns.
H). CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES
Children of 12 years and below who are not allowed to view the Chimps or go into the forest can instead enjoy educational forest walks of 1 – 2 hours duration followed by creative activities. Parents can enjoy their forest walks in the knowledge that their children are occupied in a worthwhile activity with trained ranger guides. The children visit the forest and learn about the eco system and its inhabitants through short interesting walks. Games and activities include pond dipping, cyanotype, photography and batik making.
I). THE LOCAL PEOPLE
The People living around the Park are mainly Batoro and Bakiga. The Batoro are indigenous to the area while the Bakiga are immigrants from the densely populated southwestern part of Uganda. The Batoro take pride in the cultural heritage of the Toro kingdom, a scion of the ancient kingdoms of Africa’s Great lakes region. The Omukama ( King ) and the kingdom embody the traditional and cultural values of the Batoro. The Bakiga immigrants still maintain their tradition and culture as expressed in their folklore, dance and language.
The park plays an important role in the lives of the local people who enjoy a variety of benefits from the forest. The forest provides them with many traditional forest products such as wild coffee, food, fuelwood, building materials and herbal medicines.
CHIMPANZEE TRACKING REGULATIONS
For the safety of Tourists and the protection of Kibale’s Chimpanzees, the following rules have to be adhered to;
• Keep a distance of 8 metres between you and the Chimps
• Do not enter the forest if you are sick as this puts the Chimps at the risk of contracting diseases.
• Do not eat near the Chimps
• Children of 12 years and below are not permitted to view the Chimps for safety reasons.
• Do not enter the Forest without a Park guide.
• If you need to defecate, do so off the trail and bury waste and toilet paper in a hole 30cm deep.
• Do not scare or attempt to provoke the Chimps.
• Flash photography is strictly forbidden.
• Follow the instructions of your guide.
NOTE: Please remember that Kibale is not a zoo but a natural tropical rainforest. Sightings of Chimpanzee and other primates depend on several factors such as time of the day, fruit availability, weather and how quite your group is.
WHAT TO BRING
Carry warm clothings and rain gear as the mornings and evening can be cold and wet, especially during the peak rainy seasons. Wear enclosed shoes and remember to bring a camera, binoculars, wildlife guidebooks, hat, mosquito or insect repellant.