This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.
The neighboring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas and budget campsites, as well as restaurants, craft stalls and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy cultures through performances, workshops and village walks.
In 1964, the reserve was designated as an animal sanctuary in order to provide extra protection to its mountain gorillas and renamed the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve. In 1966, two other forest reserves became part of the main reserve, increasing its area to almost 321 square kilometers. The park continued to be managed as both a game sanctuary and forest reserve.
In 1991, Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve along with Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve and Rwenzori Mountains Reserve was designated as a national park and renamed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It covered an area of 330.8 square kilometers. The national park was declared in part to protect a range of species within it, most notably the mountain gorilla. The reclassification of the park had a large impact on the Batwa pygmy people, who were evicted from the forest and no longer permitted to enter the park or access its resources. Gorilla tracking became a tourist activity in April 1993, and the park became a popular tourist destination. In 1994, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List and a 10 square kilometer area was incorporated into the park. The park's management changed: Uganda National Parks, since renamed Uganda Wildlife Authority, became responsible for the park. In 2003 a piece of land next to the park with an area of 4.2 square kilometers was purchased and incorporated into the park.
Geography and climate
The park is located at the edge of the Western Rift Valley in the highest parts of the Kigezi Highlands, which were created by up-warping of the Western Rift Valley. The topography of the park is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. Altitudes in the park range from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level, with 60% of the park having an elevation of over 2,000 meters above sea level. The highest elevation in the park is Rwamunyonyi hill at the eastern edge of the park and the lowest part of the park is located at its most northern tip.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has a tropical climate with the annual mean temperature ranging from a minimum of 7–15°C to a maximum of 20–27°C. Its annual rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimeters. Peak rainfall occurs from March to April and from September to November. The park's forest plays an important role in regulating the outside area's environment and climate.
This afromontane forest is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa, and the diversity of species is an attribute of the park. The park provides habitat for some 120 species of mammals ten of which are primates and more than 45 small mammal species, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many endangered species. In terms of fauna, the Bwindi area is amongst the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern sector which has a lower altitude is rich in species of the Guineo-Congolian flora. These include two species internationally recognised as endangered that is; Brown mahogany (Lovoa swynnertonii) and Brazzeia longipedicellata.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ecological importance. The park has a large variation of altitude and habitat types, there by supporting a variety of species of trees, reptiles, butterflies, birds, moths, and small mammals.
Recent research has shown that the Bwindi gorilla's diet is patently higher in fruit than that of the Virunga population, and that the Bwindi gorillas, even silverbacks, are more likely to climb trees to feed on foliage, fruits, and epiphytes. In some months, Bwindi gorilla diet is very similar to that of Bwindi chimpanzees. It was also found that Bwindi gorillas travel further per day, particularly on days when feeding primarily on fruit than when they are feeding on fibrous foods. Additionally, Bwindi gorillas are much more likely to build their nests in trees, nearly always in, a small understory tree.
There are no mountain gorillas recorded in captivity explaining why they are indeed an endangered species with an estimated total population of about 650 individuals.
Gorilla Tracking is the park's main tourist attraction. Tourists wishing to track gorillas must first obtain a permit to do so. Seek advice from your local Uganda safari operator on selection of the gorilla permits based on which section of Bwindi you would be visiting. Otherwise gorilla permits are purchased at Uganda Wildlife Authority. Selected gorillas families have been habituated to human presence and the number of visitors is tightly controlled to prevent degradation of the habitat and risks to the gorillas. Gorilla Tracking Safaris generate much revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority and neighboring communities which is crucial for gorilla conservation. The gorillas seldom react to tourists. There are strict rules for tourists to minimize the risk of diseases passing from them to the gorillas.