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Uganda national Parks And Game Reserves

Uganda has a total of 10 beautiful national parks including: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kibale Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, Rwenzori Mountains, Mount Elgon, Kidepo Valley, Semuliki, Lake Mburo National Parks. Each of the 10 Uganda national Parks is unique and remarkable in its own way – offering something special that is not found in the other. It could be the animals, landscape, vegetation, or an experience to do! Let us embark on a journey through these remarkable Uganda safaris parks, where every single step is a great discovery and every moment is a connection to the extra ordinary unmatched experiences.

Guides On The 10 Uganda National Parks

Uganda National Parks History

You may already know Uganda national parks have a pretty rich history. But like a lot of history, it is not all sunshine and roses. Some Uganda national parks were not welcomed with open arms and many vulnerable communities were affected in the process of their creation. Here is the real story behind some of Uganda’s most famous National Parks.

1. Murchison Falls National Park

To begin, we head northwest to Uganda’s oldest and largest park, Murchison Falls National Park.

This park is named after the dramatic Murchison Falls (the world’s strongest waterfall on the Nile River), which in turn were christened by explorer and naturalist Sir Samuel Baker.

Baker named the falls Murchison Falls after the geologist Roderick Murchison, the president of the Royal Geographical Society in the 1860s.

Did you know that during the first half of the 20th Century, Murchison Falls and its surrounds was a hunting playground for the wealthy? In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt of USA paid a visit to the region as part of the most lavish hunting safari of all time.

By the end of his year-long trip across East Africa, the Smithsonian-Roosevelt Africa Expedition had killed and collected 11,400 specimens for the Smithsonian Institution.

By the mid-century, hunting activities became more regulated and, as animal populations recovered, the then Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve became Murchison Falls National Park in 1952.

In 1960s, it was among the premier Africa safari destinations, boasting almost 60,000 visitors annually. Notable visitors to the park included Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and several British royals.

However, with the rise of Idi Amin’s despotic reign, the park’s wildlife populations were decimated by uncontrolled and state-encouraged hunting and poaching.

The park’s rhinos were killed off entirely, and the elephant populations were reduced to fewer than 500 individuals. Carnivore and herbivore suffered equally at the hands of desperate civilians and soldiers.

Though Amin was overthrown in 1979, it was to be another two decades before the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Uganda Conservation Foundation were able to stabilize the core tourism area of the park. Recovering tourist numbers supported the painstaking work of restoring the park to its former glory.

2. Lake Mburo National Park

While preserving our beautiful landscapes and unique wildlife may seem obviously beneficial, it can often be at the expense of Indigenous people who have called the land home for generations.

At one time, what is currently Lake Mburo National Park was occupied by Banyankole Bahima pastoralists who roamed its savannah plains and hills as the “Karo Kurungi” (“beautiful land”) before it was designated as a protected area. Banyankole’s culture contributed to the preservation of Lake Mburo National Park’s natural beauty. This is partly because they believed that the beauty of their long-horned Ankole cattle depended on preserving the pastoral beauty of Karo Kurungi – their ancestral land.

The Banyankole-Bahima people also believed that because they were tasked with taking care of the Ankole, the prosperity of their cattle hinged on the land remaining beautiful, which meant it had to remain unfenced, unfarmed, and uncropped. This prohibited other Banyankole groups (the Bahinda and Bairu farming class) from turning Karo Karungi into a productive landscape of farms and fences

But all of this went awry in 1983 when the national park was gazetted by the Obote regime, and the locals were forcibly removed from their land with little consultation and no compensation for the lost grazing land. In a sense, the Bahima’s connection to their pastoralist identity and “Beautiful Land” was suddenly detached.

When the Obote II regime collapsed in 1985, the former occupants re-claimed their land and chaos ensued; they expelled the park’s staff, destroyed the infrastructure and annihilated wildlife. However, the story does not end there. After hearing about the Ankole cattle of the Bahima and how the area was intrinsically linked to their culture, the NRM government reopened the park and degazetted a portion of the territory in 1986.

Now, Mburo is unfenced and managed to include the values of the Banyankole and their culture as well as the protection of wildlife. As a result, visitors on Uganda safaris here will sometimes see these cattle, stippled with patterns that look like the dapplings of light through the trees, grazing alongside zebra in the park.

3. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Just as fascinating as the majestic mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is its ancient lore and history. You’ll hear more about its many secrets when you spend time in the park on your Uganda gorilla safari vacation. Legend has it that the park takes its name, “Bwindi,” from the term used for Mubwindi Swamp, “mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki,” which is found in Ruhija, the southeast sector of the park.

Approximately 100 years ago, so the story goes, a family traveling from the Kisoro area was trying to cross a swamp that seemed impossible to traverse. After praying to the spirits of the swamp for guidance, they were asked to sacrifice their loveliest daughter in exchange for safe passage.

Faced with the prospect of returning to the south, the family opted to drown their beautiful daughter, Nyina Muraki, so that they could cross safely. As people learned about their sacrifice, they began to call it “mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki,” which translates as “dark place of nyina muraki.”

Fast forward to more recent times: Bwindi came into being in 1932 as a forest reserve. The reserve received a national park status in 1991 and declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1994.

Perhaps the only downside of instituting the park in its present status is the effect that had on the Batwa Pygmy People. For thousands of years, the Batwa lived in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. They lived a typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle: the men used simple spears or bows and arrows to catch birds, monkeys and small antelopes and bush pigs, while the women foraged for wild honey, fruits and berries.

They relied entirely on the rainforest for their survival, living in grass huts and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed. However, when the park was gazetted in 1991, the Batwa were evicted. Given no support or compensation, and with nowhere to go, overnight they’d effectively become criminals on their own land. Forced out and threatened with imprisonment, they moved onto the land on the fringes of the parks.

You Can Read More about the Batwa.

4. Queen Elizabeth National Park

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Queen Elizabeth National Park was used for cattle production by the Basongora pastoralists. This changed when a rinderpest epidemic and sleeping sickness hit the area, devastating livestock and forcing an evacuation of the area.

The epidemic was believed to be caused by the British colonial government under the guise of a livestock vaccination campaign. The place was largely evacuated, the game increased, and the colonial government decided to evict the remaining people from perhaps 90% of their lands to create game reserves.

Their homes were torched and their livestock slaughtered, causing them to flee across the border and seek refuge in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park. Two years later it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II of United Kingdom. And the last remaining communal grazing rights of the Basongora cattle herders were rescinded, causing thousands more to move across the border with their herds into the Virunga National Park, most only beginning to return after 1964 due to the strife caused by the Mulele rebellion there.

In 2006 the Basongora were forced to flee across the border from the DR Congo, settling in the park to the north of Lake Edward with their livestock attacked by predators on their property, and lack of compensation when their animals are killed, caused them to leave out carcasses laced with poison out to solve the problem, killing off eleven lions in 2018, among numerous incidents.

5. Kidepo Valley National Park

The name Kidepo comes from a Dodoth verb ‘akidep’, meaning ‘to pick up’.

The park was inhabited by Dodoth pastoralists and the Ik farmers before it was gazetted a National Park in 1962 — the year Uganda acquired its Independence from the British. The first Chief Warden of the National Park was a Briton called Ian Ross and was replaced in 1972 by a Ugandan named Paul Ssali. Their handover and training was the subject of the 1974 American documentary film; “The Wild and the Brave:’

The Ik people suffered most from the creation of the park. Thought to have been the first arrivals of the Ethiopian migration, the Ik were initially pastoralists who lost their cattle to Karamojong raiders.

Resorting to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on the lower slopes of the Morungole Mountains, they were ejected from the park in 1962. The only option available to them was to attempt subsistence farming high up in the mountains outside the park borders. Coinciding with a time of wide-spread famine known as ‘the time of one cup’, the movement pushed the Ik to the very edge of extinction, pushing traditional social practices to breaking point and turning the Ik into a dark shadow of their former selves.

It was during this time in the 1960s that the British-American anthropologist Colin Turnbull lived for three years with the Ik, recording the collapse of their community and how the group members resorted to self-interest in the most horrific of ways. He told the story in the book ‘The Mountain People,’ in which he wrongly referred to the Ik People as a people who did not love. The book causes outrage at the time of publication.

Although Turnbull suspected that his experiences of the Ik were a partial result of their expulsion from the park, he did not fully grasp the impact of the trauma. Turnbull missed the point that increasing prosperity – not just survival – would enable the Ik to restore kinder, more expected, human customs.

The Ik still are some of the most marginal communities on Earth, living in the Morungole Mountains. But they have recovered from their troubles in recent decades.

They welcome guided hikes made by visitors eager to explore the landscape they inhabit and to understand a little more about their unique way of life. It is a difficult trek, both physically and mentally due to the questions that it raises about human rights, sustainable conservation, and human development.

But with fees from the trek going to Ik community initiatives and interest from the outside world going some way to protecting the people from neighbourly threat, it is a compelling experience.

Uganda National Parks Rules

  • Do not camp or make campfires except at designated sites
  • Do not drive off the tracks.
  • Do not disturb wild Life by sounding motor horns.
  • Do not bring dogs or other pets into the park.
  • Do not litter.
  • Do not bring firearms or ammunition into the park.
  • Do not pick flowers or destroy any vegetation.
  • Do not exceed the speed Limit of 40km per hour (25mph)
  • Retain all official receipts for verification
  • Park gates open between 7am to 7pm