MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK.
Mgahinga is the smallest of all Uganda’s national parks. Located in South Western Uganda, it is the continuation of the Virunga Forests that spread through three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the only four national parks that protect the mountain gorillas, the rest being the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, Virunga National Park in DR Congo and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
The Gorilla National Park is the second habitat of the mountain gorilla in Uganda after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Mgahinga has only one habituated gorilla family, Nyakagezi group. A maximum of 8 people are allowed to see the great apes in a day. Gorilla tourism in Mgahinga is developing steadily over the years especially with additions of new tourist activities such as the Batwa Trail and Golden Monkey trekking.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.
As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.
Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
Sabyinyo is believed to be the oldest volcano, followed by Gahinga, which is younger, and with a swamp crater of about 180m diameter at the summit. Muhabura is believed to be the youngest volcano. It is cone-shaped with a small crater lake approximately 36m in diameter at its summit. There are numerous caves on the slopes of the mountains, caused by lava tubes.
Mgahinga National park is an important water catchment area. Due to its protective cover of vegetation, MGNP’s role in water catchment is superior to the surrounding terrain. Apart from the numerous streams flowing northwards from the mountains, there is a crater lake on Mt Muhabura and a swamp crater on Mt Gahinga summit. There are also swamps in the saddles between the three volcanoes that retain water all year round, while the plains at the foot of the volcanoes are characterized by deep volcanic ash, and run-off from the mountains rapidly disappears underground. The main source of the north-flowing surface water is the Kabiranyuma swamp in the Muhabura – Gahinga saddle. River Kabiranyuma drains the swamp and is an important source of water for the populations around. It is the only river that does not dry up completely in the driest months of June to August. River Ntebeko drains the Rugezi Swamp in the Gahinga Sabyinyo saddle northwards to the DRC, while Nyabirerema stream drains Mt. Sabyinyo northwards to DRC.
In Mgahinga national park, there are 39 mammal species have been recorded, but it is believed that up to 89 do occur. The larger mammals include the mountain gorilla buffalo and elephant. There is also the rare golden monkey known only to occur in the Virungas and the blue monkey. Other mammals include the golden cat, serval cat, leopard, spotted hyena, side-striped jackal, black-fronted duiker, bushbuck and giant forest hog. 79 bird species have been recorded in MGNP, including several endemic to the East Congo Montane region. A total of 185 bird species have been recorded in Parc National des Volcans, and most are likely to occur in MGNP.