MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK

Mgahinga gorilla national park although is the smallest in the country, (33.7kms) is very important, as it is one of the only two national parks in Uganda that offer habitat for the endangered mountain gorillas. Situated in kisoro district, southwestern Uganda, this park was gazetted in 1991 and is part of the virunga conservation area, which is 434km. It adjoins Rwanda’s volcano and the DRC virunga national parks. Mgahinga gorilla national park experiences two wet rainy seasons; February-May and September – December of each year. The maximum amount of rainfall in a year is 250mm (October) and minimum is 10mm (July).

People
Kisoro district is heavily populated with the Bafumbira who lead a simple life-style mainly as cultivators, as the major ethnic group.

Ecosystem and wildlife
Being a mountainous area, the park experiences afromontane vegetation and a cool climate. The abundant types of vegetation is the bamboo (60%), wh9ich is a delicacy to the mountain gorillas, other types of flora include the Lobelia, Haegenia spp etc. Animals found in the park include the mountain gorilla, buffalo, elephants, bushbucks, the threatened golden monkeys and many others. Examples of bird species include Rwenzori Turaco, fiscal shrike, crowned hornbill, black kite, and Augur buzzards, crowned crane.

Activities
Gorilla tracking/trekking

This is the most exciting and unforgettable experience, which might take one through a thick jungle. The tourists group (The Nyakagezi group) consists of 9 members; 2 silver backs, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. (Tracking can take three to eight hours).
Gorilla rules

• No one with a communicable disease (e.g. flu, diarrhea is allowed to enter the park
• Stay together in a tight group while with the gorillas, don’t surround them
• Don’t use flashes while photographing
• Don’t eat or smoke when with the gorillas or with distance of 200 meters from the gorillas
• Turn away from the gorillas if you have to sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose in the process.
• Bury all human faeces a minimum of one foot deep and ensure that the hole is properly covered.
• Don’t leave litter. All litter must be carried out of the park and disposed off properly.
• No person under 15 years is allowed to track gorillas.
• Don’t make loud noise or move suddenly.
• You are allowed a maximum of 1 hour with gorillas
• Don’t spit on vegetation or soil while in the park. Use your hankie of other garment.
Volcano climbing
Mgahinga National Park offers three extinct volcanoes for physically fit hikers although they don’t do not require special mountaineering gears.

 

Mt. Sabyinyo (3669m) “Old man’s teeth”
Like an old man time has eroded Mt. Sabyinyo’s crown. This volcano offers 3 challenging peaks to climb. A climb up the mountain takes one up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb peak 1. If you are to continue, the climb peak 11 involves walking as ridge with breath- taking drops into gorges of Rwanda and Uganda. Finally, the hike up to the peak 11 is steep with several ladders and mush scrambling. You are guaranteed to get your hands dirty en-route to peak 111. Once on top, you will be in Rwanda, DRC and Uganda at the same time. The journey takes about 8hrs round to cover the 14km stretch.

Mt. Gahinga (3474m) ´Small pile of stones’
On you’re way to the park, look out for small pile of stones in the garden fields. The local people call such pile a ‘Gahinga’. Mount Gahinga is quite bigger than the average ‘gahinga’ but sitting next to mountain Muhavura does make it look small. A hike, which takes you about 6 hrs round trip, goes through a good example of a pure bamboo forest. Gahinga once had a crater lake on top but time has changed it into a lush swamp. Distance to the swamp is 8km.

Mt Muhavura (4127) ‘The guide’
Seen from all over Kisoro, this volcano acts as a guide. Typical cone-shaped mountain provides some of the best views in the country. Much of the climb passes a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with the view of the other virunga volcanoes, lake Edward in queen Elizabeth national park, Bwindi and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountain. The hike takes approximately 8 hours round trip covering 12km. You are advised to camp at the muhavura base camp the night before the site has no facilities so you need a tent, water, food and sleeping gear.

Cave exploration
Garama cave

This is one of the caves where once the crafty Batwa (who were warriors) lived and fought their neighbors, the Bantu. The distance to the cave entrance from the park headquarters is 3km long and takes about 4hours. Your guide will show you how the batwa live and fought out of the cave. The cave is 342m in length and 14m deep, and is now inhabited only by bats.

 

Viewing platform
This is about 800meters from the park gate. Once on top, you will have a good view of the park and the surrounding area.

Birding
Yes, birding along the edge of the park is now available on request. The guides are happy to take you out from 5-6p.m. if you book by 10am that morning. A stroll along the buffalo wall towards Congo takes you through a wetland area where Ibis, Whydah, Speckled, mouse bird, and fire finch are found. Stonechart, grey-capped warbler, waxbills and yellow-vented bulbul are always seen around the campground. Ask your guide where the best spots are. Feel free to take your time and go at your own pace- there is no hurry when birding. Do not forget your binocular.

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