Much of Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is relatively flat, although it spans an altitudinal range of more than 600 m. The Park has well-defined boundaries with Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Reserves, which form buffer zones in the south-west and east of the park respectively, and Kyabatwa Forest Reserve to the south. To the south of Bugungu Wildlife Reserve is a large, medium-altitude semi-deciduous forest, the Budongo Forest Reserve (IBA UG019). The Victoria Nile bisects the park from Karuma Falls to the delta at its confluence with Lake Albert, with over 50 distributaries which flow through thick papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) swamp. The Park contains the famous Murchison Falls where the Nile, or a large part of it, flows through a rock cleft some 6 m wide—one of the main tourist attractions. The rest of the park is dominated by rolling savanna and tall grass with increasingly thick bush, woodland and forest patches in the higher and wetter areas to the south and east.The conservation of the park has been based on those animals that have most relevance to its management. These are the large mammals, which have greatest impact on both the ecosystem and the majority of people around the park as well as visitors. MFNP has a variety of tourist facilities, and is becoming well-known internationally as one of the best sites in Africa for seeing Balaeniceps rex.
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The Park boasts a rich avifauna, with a checklist of more than 460 species, due to its large size and wide range of habitats. It is certain that the list is incomplete and many additions can be expected with more intensive research. The convergence zone between the lake and the delta forms a shallow area that is important for waterbirds, especially Balaeniceps rex. This species is an important tourist attraction of MFNP, the only Park where one is almost certain of seeing the bird. Balaeniceps rex is regularly recorded along the Nile inside the park, especially at the delta and on two islands in the river. The globally near-threatened Phoenicopterus minor and Gallinago media have occasionally been recorded. Torgos tracheliotus occurs. The Park supports 20 species from three non-qualifying biomes: 11 species of the Guinea–Congo Forests, six species of the Afrotropical Highlands and three of the Somali–Masai biome.
Non-bird biodiversity: The stretch of river between Murchison Falls and the delta has one of the biggest concentrations of Crocodylus niloticus in the world. Mammals of conservation concern include Loxodonta africana (EN; intensively studied), Giraffa camelopardalis (LR/cd; the largest population in the country) and, formerly, both Diceros bicornis (CR) and Ceratotherium simum (CR). Both are now extinct in Uganda due to poaching, but reintroduction is being considered.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MFNP was gazetted in 1952 and changed name in the 1970s to Kabalega Falls National Park. However, since the new name was not officially gazetted by the government of the day, the park reverted to its former name in 1979.The Park was proposed by Uganda to be a World Heritage Site, but was not inscribed on the list. It does qualify under two of the four required criteria: ‘superlative natural phenomenon’ (the falls) and ‘the most important and significant natural habitats where threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value survive’ like Crocodylus niloticus and Balaeniceps rex. Poaching is the main problem in the park. The people around the park, notably the Acholi in the north, the Bachopi in the south-east, and a more recent community of the Bagungu on the western boundary, were responsible for most of the poaching in the park in the past. However, the various armies and other politically motivated rebel groups who have at different times disrupted the management of the park have overshadowed the influence and activities of the neighbouring communities. By 2000, poaching in most of the park had been significantly reduced, and large-mammal populations were increasing. The large-scale destruction of elephants during the 1970s removed a major modifying factor from the park landscape. Terminalia and other woodland types have therefore been expanding over the past two decades.