Uganda’s Conservation Areas

Uganda’s list of gazetted conservation areas encompasses 10 national parks, 8 wildlife wildlife reserves, 4 wildlife sanctuaries and 6 Ramsar sites. National parks are accorded, a higher status and conservation priority than other reserves, and from the visitor’s point of view they are generally, better developed for tourism.

Bureaucratic considerations aside, the most meaningful way to categorize Uganda’s various national parks and reserves is on the basis of the type of habitat they protect. We concessionary refer to some national parks as game or savanna reserves, forest reserves and montane reserves. In this sense, the term ‘game reserve’ applies to any reserve or national park that protects a savanna habitat and supports typical plains animals, whereas the term ‘forest reserve’ refers to any reserve or national park that protects a forest environment and associated animals.

The three montane conservation areas considered national parks can in some circumstances be bracketed with forest reserves, since they all support montane and bamboo forests up to around 3,000 meters above sea level, at what point the habitat gives way to Afro-montane moorland at higher altitudes.

National Parks in Uganda

  1. Bwindi Impenetrable | 310km2 | Forest | mountain gorillas, forest birds
  2. Kibale Forest | 766km2 | Forest | chimpanzees, monkeys, forest birds
  3. Kidepo Valley | 1,344km2 | Savanna | dry-country antelopes, predators and birds
  4. Lake Mburo | 256km2 | Savanna | wide variety of antelope and waterbirds
  5. Mgahinga | 33km2 | Montane | mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, hiking, volcanic peaks
  6. Mount Elgon | 1,145km2 | Montane | hiking, forest birds
  7. Murchison Falls | 3,900km2  | Savanna | Murchison Falls, big game, waterbirds
  8. Queen Elizabeth | 1,978km2 | Savanna | big game, chimps, 612 bird species
  9. Rwenzori  Mountains | 996km2 | Montane | hiking, forest birds, Afro-montane plants
  10. Semuliki | 220km2 | Forest | hot springs, Rift Valley setting, 45 birds found nowhere else

Although several other wildlife reserves are gazetted in Uganda, most are merely adjuncts to one of the savanna national parks. The only ones that have any tourist facilities at present are Semliki, Katonga, Bugungu, Tian Upe, Kabwoya and Kyambura wildlife reserves.

Also, of interest to tourists are Uganda’s forest reserves, of which the Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi forest reserves south of Murchison Falls National Park have well-established tourist sites offering camping facilities, bandhas and guided forest walks.

The Lake Victoria region supports large tracts of forest, the most accessible of which are protected in Mpanga Forest Reserve near Mpigi and the Mabira Forest Reserve near Jinja, both of which also now offer accommodation, camping and guided walks. Kalinzu Forest Reserve between Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park is also developed for tourism.

Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo and Kalinzu forests is significantly cheaper than in the national parks.

Several other sites are also of interest for their natural history. These include Lake Nkuruba, Amabere Caves and Bigodi Wetland near Fort Portal, Lake Bunyonyi and the Echuya Forest in Kigezi, and the Sipi Falls near Mbale.

For birders in particular, it is easy to view Uganda, with its lush natural vegetation and dense tropical cultivation, as nothing less than one giant nature sanctuary. There are extensive forests on Buggala and other islands in Lake Victoria’s Ssese archipelago, while the small relic forest protected in the Entebbe Botanical Garden offers an excellent introduction to Uganda’s forest birds and is a good place to get a close look at black-and-white colobus monkeys.

Even leisurely walk around Entebbe offers the opportunity to see such colorful species as Ross’s turaco, woodland kingfisher, white-throated bee-eater and a variety of robin-chats and weavers.

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