Uganda’s Conservation Areas

Uganda’s list of gazetted conservation areas encompasses 10 national parks, 8 wildlife wildlife reserves, 4 wildlife sanctuaries and 9 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 occasionally 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 in Uganda 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 | 310 sq km | Forest | mountain gorillas, forest birds
  2. Kibale Forest | 766 sq km | Forest | chimpanzees, monkeys, forest birds
  3. Kidepo Valley | 1,344 sq km | Savanna | dry-country antelopes, predators and birds
  4. Lake Mburo | 256 sq km | Savanna | wide variety of antelope and waterbirds
  5. Mgahinga | 33 sq km | Montane | mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, hiking, volcanic peaks
  6. Mount Elgon | 1,145 sq km | Montane | hiking, forest birds
  7. Murchison Falls | 3,900 sq km  | Savanna | Murchison Falls, big game, waterbirds
  8. Queen Elizabeth | 1,978 sq km | Savanna | big game, chimps, 612 bird species
  9. Rwenzori  Mountains | 996 sq km | Montane | mountaineering, forest birds, Afro-montane plants
  10. Semuliki | 220 sq km | Forest | hot springs, Rift Valley setting, 45 birds found nowhere else

Wildlife Reserves in Uganda

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:

  1. Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve, 542 sq km in Western Uganda
  2. Katonga Wildlife Reserve, 207 sq km in Western Uganda
  3. Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, 473 sq km part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area
  4. Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve,  2043 sq km in Karamoja subregion of northeastern Uganda.
  5. Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve, 87 sq km, Western Uganda
  6. Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, 156 sq km found in Queen Elizabeth NP

Forest Reserves

Also, conservation areas 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.

Ramsar Sites in Uganda

Uganda has 9 Ramsar Conservation areas that are recognized by Bird Life International as Important Bird Areas as well as providing a vital habitat for other threatened plants and animals. Ramsar sites offer extra protection to the habitats of endangered species such as the globally vulnerable Shoebill, the Papyrus Gonolek, and the Sitatunga, which attract a number of tourists into the country. The cultural and socio-economic value of these wetlands is also as important because local communities depend on them for their survival in terms of fish, construction material, medicines, flood protection, water filtration, grazing and much more. Ramsar sites in Uganda include:

  • Lake Bisina Wetland System, 542 sq km in Kumi, Katakwi, Soroti
  • Lake Mburo-Nakivali Wetland System, 268 sq km in Mbarara
  • Lake Nakuwa Wetland System, 911 sq km in Kamuli Soroti
  • Lake Opeta Wetland System, 689 sq km in Nakapiripirit, Sironko, Katakwi, Kumi
  • Lutembe Bay Wetland System, 0.98 sq km in Wakiso
  • Mabamba Bay Wetland System, 24 sq km in Mpigi
  • Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Wetland System, 17 sq km in Masindi, Gulu
  • Nabajjuzi Wetland System, 17 sq km in Masaka, Sembabule, Mpigi
  • Sango Bay-Musambwa Island-Kagera Wetland System (SAMUKA), 151 sq km in Masaka, Rakai

Other Prominent Birding Sites

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.

Other Conservation Sites

Several other Uganda conservation sites are also of interest for their natural history. These include

  • Lake Nkuruba,
  • Amabere Caves in Fort Portal and
  • Bigodi Wetland near Kibale Forest
  • Lake Bunyonyi in Kigezi
  • Echuya Forest in Kigezi,
  • Sipi Falls near Mbale.

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