Are you a primate lover seeking to visit a destination that will satisfy your eyes and attain an unforgettable experience? Then visit Uganda’s Kibale National Park, a destination known for the best primate watching experience. This National Park is known as the “primate capital of the world” and is located in the South-western side of Uganda covering an area of 795 square kilometers. Kibale National Park is surrounded by four districts that is Kabarole, Kibale, Kasese and Kamwenge and was gazzeted as a forest reserve in 1932 and eventually into a National Park in 1993.
This magnificent national Park contains one of the most beautiful and varied tracts of Tropical rain forests in Uganda. The Northern and central sections of this protected area are dominated by forest cover and patches of swamp and grasslands. Kibale is a tourist’s place to be because it offers shelter to over 70 species of mammals with at least 13 species of Primates. It is one of the most rewarding destinations for primate watching safaris in Uganda.
The park is also home to over 375 species of birds, 140 butterfly species and approximately 351 tree species that call this Park home.
What to see and do in Kibale National Park
As earlier mentioned, there are 70 species of mammals including 13 species of primates. Kibale National Park is popular of the Chimpanzees because there are over 1500 individuals (representing over 30% of Uganda’s Chimpanzee population).other primate species tourists are likely to encounter include Olive Baboons, diurnal primates like Blue monkeys, Black and white Colobus monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, vervet monkeys, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Red Colobus monkeys and Red-tailed monkeys among others. The nocturnal primates include Demidov’s dwarf and pottos among others. Also other mammals exist though are hardly seen in Kibale and they include Duikers, Bush pigs, Elephants, Leopards Bushbucks, Buffaloes, and Mongoose among others.
Also 351 species of birds including 6 species that are Albertine Rift Endemics. The species of birds found in Kibale National Park include Purple-breasted sunbird, Blue-headed sunbird, Green breasted pitta, Red-winged francolin, Blue-breasted kingfisher, Black-bee eater, Yellow rumped tinker bird, Chestnut-winged starling, Yellow spotted nicator, Grey-headed Olive back, little greenbul, White-bellied Crested Flycather, Red-chested flufftail, Masked and black-capped Apalis, Abyssinian ground thrush and Red-Faced woodland warbler among others.
With the existence of the mentioned attractions, several tourist activities exist for tourists to engage in and they include chimpanzee tracking (is the key activity that this Park is known for), the chimpanzee habituation experience dubbed at CHEX, visit to Bigodi wetland sanctuary where several Sitatungas, bird and primate species exist, birding and nature walks among others.
Things to Do in Kibale Forest
The most popular activity in the national park is the guided chimp-tracking excursion out of Kanyanchu. For dedicated chimp enthusiasts or aspiring researchers seeking field experience, which involves staying with the chimps all day with habituators and taking notes on their behavior.
Almost as popular is the guided walking trail through the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, which is probably better for general monkey viewing and one of the finest birding trails in the country. There is also plenty of potential for unguided exploration in the area, both along the main road through the forest, and around Bigodi trading centre and Kanyanchu Camp. If time is limited, it’s advisable to do the activity that most interests you in the morning, this is not only the best time to see chimpanzees, but also when birds are most active.
Guided forest walks. A highlight of any activity to Kibale Forest will be the chimp-tracking excursions that leave from Kanyanchu at 8:00 and 14:00 daily. Chimp sightings are not guaranteed on these walks, but the odds of encountering them have improved greatly in recent years, and now stand around 90%. The chimpanzee community, whose territory centres on Kanyanchu, is well habituated, with the result that visitors can often approach to within a few metres of them. Whilst in the forest you can expect to see at least two or three other types of primate, most probably grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkey. You will hear plenty of birdsong, but it’s very difficult to see any birds in the heart of the forest. You are better off looking for them in the rest camp and along the road. The guides are knowledgeable and will identify various medical plants, bird calls and animal spoor.
Another novelty is a guided night walk with spotlights, which runs from 19.30 to 22.00 daily and offers a good chance of sighting nocturnal primates such as the bushbaby and potto.
Tourists are forbidden to walk along forest paths or in Magombe swamp without a guide, but they are free to walk unguided elsewhere. Kanyanchu itself is worth a couple of hours’ exploration. A colony of Viellot’s black weaver nests in the camp, while flowering trees attract a variety of forest sunbirds. You can also expect to see or hear several types of robin and greenbul, often difficult to tell apart unless you get a good look at them. A specialty of the camp is the localized red-chested paradise flycatcher, a stunning bird that’s very easy to find once you know its call. Other interesting birds seen there regularly at Kanyanchu are the great blue turaco, hairy-breasted barbet, black-necked weaver and black-and-white casqued hornbill. The short, self-guided grassland trail which circles the camp is good for monkeys. It is permitted to walk unguided along the stretch of the main road between Fort portal and Kamwenge as it runs through the forest. The most interesting section on this road is the first few kilometres running north towards Fort portal from Kanyanchu, where you are almost certain to see a variety of monkeys, genuine forest birds such as Sabine’s spinetail, blue-breasted kingfisher and Afep pigeon, as well as butterflies in their hundreds gathered around puddles and streams. The road south from Kanyanchu to Bigodi passes through a variety of habitats, forest patches, swamp and grassland and is also productive for birds and monkeys.
Sebitoli and the Kihingami Wetlands:
Sebitoli lies inside the northern part of Kibale forest national park. It is little visited, which is a shame, since it is conveniently located just metres off the main Fort portal-Kampala road and is far easier to reach than Kanyanchu. Sebitoli development opened in 2002 to help ease tourist’s pressure on the Kanyanchu sector of the park. It offers similar activities and facilities to Kanyanchu, with the exception of chimpanzee tracking, and is far more accessible for day trippers from Fort portal. Guided forest walks offer a good chance of seeing red and black-and-white colobus and blue and vervet monkey, as well as a varied selection of the (rapidly expanding ) local checklist of 236 bird species, chimpanzees are present in the area but not habituated. Guided walking or cycling tours to the nearby Kihingami wetlands outside the park offer excellent bird watching and a visit to local tea estates, and leave daily.
Accommodation in Kibale National Park
There are several accommodation facilities in and around Kibale National Park that satisfy the taste of preferences of tourists and they include Kibale Primate Lodge, Crater Safari Lodge (luxury), Papaya Lake Lodge (luxury), Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse, Kibale Forest camp (midrange), Kyaninga Lodge, Kanyanchu River Camp, Chimp Nest (midrange), Mantana Luxury Tented Camp, and Ndali Lodge (luxury) among others. Other accommodation facilities also exist as far as Bigodi, Sebitoli and Nkingo villages or in Fortportal Town like Rwenzori View guesthouse (30kms from the Park, in Fortportal town), Mountains of the Moon Hotel, Nyinabulitwa Country Resort and Safari Camp (budget accommodation, 20kms from Fortportal town) and Rujuna Hilltop Guesthouse (18 kms from Kibale National Park).
How to Reach Kibale National Park
Kibale National park is about 360 kms/224 miles west of Kampala City and it is a 5-6 hours drive from Kampala to this Park. The road trip involves using two routes i.e. the north or the South route. However the northern route is preferred because it is shorter and involves driving on a tarmac for 328 kms from Kampala to Fortportal then followed by 32 km of a rough road to Kanyanchu. The Southern route cannot be neglected and involves going though Mbarara and Kamwenge. Tourists interested in using air transport can also access this park though scheduled domestic flights by Aerolink from Entebbe to Fortportal town.
In conclusion, due to the fact that Kibale National Park homes about 13 different species of primates including 1500 chimpanzees, L’Hoest’s monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, Olive baboons and Black and White Colobus monkeys others, it is often referred as the primate capital of the world and the perfect place for primate lovers.