Semuliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.
The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
While Semuliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
Katonga Wildlife Reserve with an area of 207 square kilometers was gazetted in 1964 as a game reserve, to serve as a corridor for migrating wildlife from Western Uganda to Tanzania and Sudan. It became a Wildlife Reserve in 1996 when the former Game Department and Uganda National Parks merged to form Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Currently, the reserve is managed by UWA under the Kibale Conservation Area administration with a Warden In-Charge based at the Reserve Head Office at Kikorogoto.
The 207sq.km Katonga Wildlife Reserve is a savannah grassland ecosystem located within Kyenjojo and Kamwenge Districts. The journey into the Reserve is a three-hour drive from Kampala to Kyegegwa Town Council. At Kyegegwa, detour southwards for 42 km following well visible signposts.
The Reserve’s terrain is predominantly undulating in nature with distinct vegetation types. Vegetation includes grasslands, wooded grasslands, woodlands, riverine woodlands, swamp, riverine grasslands, papyrus. Most of the area is mixed savannah with acacia or woodland. However, large portions of the reserve are either permanent or seasonal wetlands. The reserve also contains various pockets of riverine and tropical forests. Its unique geographical location between forests, swamps and savannah vegetation gives the reserve a diverse ecosystem that favours the existence of a variety of animal species. The most dominant plant species include Sporobolus festivus and Chloris gayana. These species exist with associate species like Setaria species, Hyparrhenia species and occasional Panicum maximum. The Katonga wetland system is interlinked with the Nile system forming an important wetland system for human survival. The variety of different vegetation types, particularly the wetlands, provides a range of habitats, which enhances the faunal diversity of the reserve.
Katonga Wildlife Reserve has a viable Sitatunga population inhabiting the Katonga Wetland System. The reserve also habours high population of waterbucks. The population of Hippos and birds is also growing in addition to primates.
In the 1960s, the reserve was home to a variety of animals including the zebra, topi and eland, which are no longer seen in the reserve. Elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, reedbuck and sitatunga still occur in the reserve. Between 1971 and 1985, most of the wildlife was killed through commercial and subsistence poaching. The reserve was also heavily encroached by cultivators and cattle grazing. In 2014 however, all the encroachers in the park were evicted.
In 2015 60 Impalas and 5 Zebras were successfully translocated to the reserve in order to restock and boost animal populations for tourism. The population of impalas now stands at 300 individuals The current bird checklist is over 150 including species specific to wetlands, savannah and forests. Other mammals include Black and White Colobus Monkey, the River Otter, and Olive Baboon, Uganda Kob, Waterbuck, Leopard, Buffalo, reedbuck, bushbuck and duiker and chevrotain. The reserve is also home to various reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. The table below shows the 2004 animal population census results for the reserve.
Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve was established as a game reserve in 1926 and was among the first protected areas to be gazetted. The main reason was to protect the large numbers of Uganda Kobs in the area. It covers an area of 542 km2. It is located in western Uganda, within Ntoroko and Kabarole districts.
Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve enjoys a dramatic rift valley setting between the Rwenzori, kijura escarpment and Lake Albert. The dominant vegetation type is the open acacia-combretum woodland and grassy savannah, interspersed with patches of borassus palm forest, significant belts of riparian woodland along the main water courses, as well as some extensive swamps towards Lake Albert. The reserve itself is topographically unremarkable, set at a relatively low altitude starting from around 700m above sea level, but on a clear day the setting is truly awesome, with the sheer rift valley escarpment rising sharply from the eastern shore of Lake Albert, the 2500m-high Congolese Blue mountains on the western horizon and the mighty glacial peaks of the Rwenzori visible to the south west.
There are four communities living around the reserve.
This community is situated in the south of the reserve, about 18 km from Fort Portal town. The area is mainly inhabited by the Bakonjo who are traditional cultivators. The most important crops grown are maize, cassava, beans,soya beans, rice and bananas some of which is sold in Rwebisengo and Ntoroko markets
This community is located on the west and north western edge of the reserve in the Semliki Flats. The community mainly comprises the Batuku (Batoro-Bahuma), who are predominantly pastoralists. The Batuku are believed to be descendants of the Abarusula who were the royal army of the king Kabalega of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom
Ntoroko fishing community:
This community is situated at the south-eastern tip of Lake Albert between the estuaries of Wasa and Muzizi rivers. The area, covering approximately 4 km2 has now been excised from the reserve and gazetted as a Wildlife Sanctuary to offer protection of any wildlife that interface in this area. The Ntoroko community depends mainly on fishing.
This community is located on the eastern escarpment of the rift valley. The majority of them are the Bakiga migrants who originally came to work in the tea estates in 1960s. During the good economic times, tea
provided stable income. As the prices of tea deteriorated, they resorted to crop cultivation mainly beans, groundnuts, maize and bananas.
Getting to there
Kampala Fort Portal via Mubende is 290 km and Kampala –Fort Portal via Masaka-Mbarara-Kasese is about 465 km. Follow the route to Semuliki National Park from Fort Portal for the first 28 km before
turning right at Karugutu trading centre. The reserve boundary is 3 km further on and the turn off to
Semliki Safari Lodge is 26 km further on just beyond the bridge over the river wasa. Branch to the right
3km to the Lodge. Lake Albert is further on 25 km ahead at Ntoroko fishing village where UWA manages bandas, a campsite and a canteen.
There is an air field managed by UWA so visitors can charter planes and land at Semliki Safari Lodge where the air field is situated
This walk takes 3 to 4 hours and is conducted near Semliki Safari Lodge where you will meet our experienced ranger guides. Key primate species on
this walk include chimpanzees, Red-tailed, vervet, Black and white colobus monkeys, Baboons.
Angulates encountered are Waterbucks, Warthogs, Bush bucks, Buffaloes, Uganda Kobs, and Elephants.
There are three tracks across the savannah grassland of Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve. Smaller forest and larger savannah elephants are regularly seen, along with Buffalo, Waterbucks, Warthog, and Uganda Kob. With luck, you may even see leopard and elusive Bushbabies. Game drives in the wildlife reserve are done in the morning, afternoon, and at night. After dark, visitors may come across curious nocturnal species such as the white tailed mongoose.
This takes 3 hours and it goes through a variety of habitats ranging from savannah woodland to riverine forest. Species encountered on this walk include; Ground Hornbills, Warthogs, Uganda Kobs, baboons, Black and White Colobus and Vervet Monkeys.
The Karugutu Community Conservation Association (KCCA) is a community based association whose objective is conservation education through Music Dance and Drama (MDD). They organize traditional dances for the visitors and they have a shop for handcrafts at the entrance of the reserve which they sell to visitors. Members of the KCCA perform for visitors
This is conducted on Lake Albert and the main attractions are Shoebills, African Pygmy Goose, Blue-breasted and Blue-Cheeked Bee-eaters and Blue-headed Coucal.
Hike to Nyaburogo Gorge:
This is an ideal walk for birders that starts right at the Reserve Head quarters. It is a 7 km hike that goes through a diversity of habitats including savanna, woodland and a forest in the gorge. Common birds sighted include: Arrow marked Babbler, Tropical Boubal, Black-headed Bushrike, Luhdrers Bushrike and primates including Black and White Colobus, Baboons, vervets and occasionary the Chimpanzees.
The Toro Semliki plain is predominantly grassy savanna and acacia-combretum woodland echoeing Murchison Falls National Park at the northern end of Lake Albert. Stands of borassus palms,lake shore marshland and broad river valleys filled with beautiful galley forest all add variety. Lake Albert lies outside the reserve but can be visited for canoing and bird watching.
Wildlife in Toro Semliki
Toro semliki contains the same key species as Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks; Elephant, Buffalo, Uganda Kob, Waterbuck, Warthog, Giant Forest Hog, Hippopotamus. Primates include Chimpanzees, Baboons and Monkeys including Vervet, Red-tailed and Black and White Colobus. Uniquely, the 200 strong Elephant population includes savanah and forest Elephant plus a hybrid form from inter-breeding. Researchers from the University of Indiana have been studying chimpanzees in the reverine forest at Mugiri close to Semliki Safari Lodge.
There are chances of encountering the chimpanzees when you take a primate walk.
The reserve boosts of 440 bird species including Red-necked falcon, Black-billed Barbet and the turkey like Abyssinian Ground-hornbill. The Shoebill is usually sighted in the marshes of Lake Albert.
There is a campsite and budget bandas run by UWA on the shores of Lake Albert at Ntoroko, these have to be booked in advance. Meals are prepared at the canteen at the campsite.
Another campsite is at the reserve headquarters in Karugutu.
Semliki Safari Lodge run by a private concessionaire The Uganda Safari Company offers upmarket tented camp.
Ntoroko Game Lodge offers luxury tented camps and a campsite at Ntoroko Landing site.