Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The park lies on the edge of the Albertine (or Western) Rift Valley and occupies the highest block of the Kigezi highlands, also known as the Rukiga highlands. It is located on Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The topography of the park is extremely rugged and much dissected, especially in the higher southern sector. The only flat area of any size is Mubwindi swamp (c.80 ha). The remainder (almost all forested) consists of narrow, very steep-sided valleys bounded by hill crests, spanning altitudes between 1,400 m in the northern sector and 2,600 m in the south.The forest is one of the largest in East Africa that contains both medium-altitude and montane forest in a continuum. As a result of its wide altitudinal range and relatively large size, and its probable role as a Pleistocene refugium, the species-richness of the forest is extremely high, for both flora and fauna. This forest is believed to be a mere remnant of a very large forest which once covered much of western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern DRC. Today, Bwindi is an ecological island surrounded by one of the highest human population densities in Africa (100–450 individuals/km²). Immediately beyond its borders, there is virtually no natural forest remaining and much of the land is intensively cultivated.The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, which belongs to Mbarara University of Science and Technology, is based at Ruhija. The park is host to considerable ecotourist activities, particularly gorilla-tracking and birdwatching.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The National Park has been extensively surveyed for birds. Its checklist currently totals 347 species. Mubwindi swamp is home to Bradypterus graueri. Indicator pumilio is only known in Uganda, with certainty, from this locality. Some of the species endemic to the Albertine Rift, such as Pseudocalyptomena graueri, Muscicapa lendu and Cryptospiza shelleyi, have limited distributions elsewhere in their range. The park also holds Zoothera oberlaenderi, one of the six species of the Eastern DR Congo lowlands Endemic Bird Area (EBA 107). The northern sector is especially rich in species of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome.

Non-bird biodiversity: Eight species of tree are known only from this forest in Uganda. Among threatened mammals, the forest contains about 300 individuals of Gorilla gorilla beringei (CR), roughly half of the world population of this subspecies, as well as Loxodonta africana (EN), Pan troglodytes (EN) and Cercopithecus l’hoesti (LR/nt).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
This forest was originally gazetted in 1932 as Kasatoro Crown Forest (south sector, 181 km²) and Kayonza Crown Forest (north sector, 26 km²). In 1942, the two forests were combined and additional forest was added to establish the Impenetrable Crown Forest (324 km²). About 26 km² were excised from the reserve in 1948, and it was re-gazetted the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve (298 km²). These gazettements were consolidated in the Laws of Uganda in 1951. Additional small excisions were made in 1958 in order to shorten the boundaries and make them easier to maintain and patrol. In 1961, two local Forest Reserves bordered the Impenetrable; the Bikingi Local Forest Reserve (7.6 km²) in the south sector and the Ishasha Local Forest Reserve (13.8 km²) in the north sector. In 1966, these were incorporated into the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve (320.8 km²). The Impenetrable was gazetted as an Animal Sanctuary in 1961 with boundaries the same as those of the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve, which was then gazetted as a National Park in 1991. This change in national status reflects the growing recognition of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a vital refuge for some of Uganda’s rarest and most unique flora and fauna.Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the largest remaining fragment of natural forest in south-western Uganda, with exceptional species-richness. It is an important water catchment, being the source of rivers flowing to Lakes Edward, Mutanda and Bunyonyi, and to the drier agricultural land to the north and west. For these reasons, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has been declared a World Heritage Site, together with Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Owing to the size of the forest, it may have an important stabilizing effect on the microclimate of the area.Conservation efforts in Bwindi have historically faced a variety of obstacles, mainly derived from the conflicts of interest over land usage, specifically the desire, on the part of the community members, to utilize park resources as they had done traditionally. Rapid population growth and high population densities in the region, combined with poor agricultural practices, poorly developed local and national transport systems and/or techniques for natural-resource conservation, perpetuate local community dependence upon forest resources, although this is changing. Policies and practices of the National Park also fostered conservation conflicts. Local communities were historically excluded from the decision-making, planning and management of the forest, which contributed to resentment and hostility by local people towards park authorities. All this culminated in illegal activities and disinterest by local communities in the park. In addition, local people incur high costs in the form of loss of access to resources and crop depredation by wildlife but, in the past, received little tangible benefit from the park establishment. However, the majority of illegal activities have been brought under control and considerable efforts are being made by organizations such as CARE (Uganda) and the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust to assist local communities to adopt sustainable resource-use practices. By 2000, these measures were beginning to have a significant effect. Gorilla-based tourism is most lucrative for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and part of the proceeds are now ploughed back into surrounding communities.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2017) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Downloaded from on 22/10/2017.