The park, which includes Uganda’s highest point, Margherita, rises from the floor of the Western Rift Valley. It is contiguous with the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo (IBA CD010). The park covers an extremely steep and rugged mountain range, whose highest peaks are permanently covered with ice and snow, although this is retreating. The natural vegetation is determined largely by altitude, with five distinct zones. In the lower-lying areas (below c.2,400 m, though up to 3,800 m in sheltered valleys), the vegetation is montane forest, characterized by trees of Symphonia, Prunus, Albizia, Dombeya and others. There are few large trees and the canopy is very open, except in valley bottoms and on ridge-tops where the gradient is comparatively gentle. This area occupies about 240 km². Bamboo Arundinaria forms almost pure stands in many areas between 2,500 and 3,000 m. Above c.3,800 m, a tree-heath occurs, in which giant heather Phillipia forms dense thickets, although in more sheltered places there is a mixture of stunted trees and tangled undergrowth. Above this, up to the snow-line at c.4,400 m, is an Afro-alpine moorland zone. In total, forested and wooded areas cover c.55,000 ha of the park. Although the fauna of the park may not be easily seen, the attraction which makes the Rwenzoris so famous is the remarkable spectacle of snow and ice-covered peaks in the centre of Equatorial Africa.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. In total, 217 species have been recorded in the park, but given that it has not been comprehensively surveyed, further additions are to be expected. The park contains the second highest number of Albertine Rift endemics of any IBA in Uganda, and the second highest number of species of the Afrotropical Highlands biome, both after Bwindi (IBA UG004). There is an unconfirmed report of the globally near-threatened Coracina graueri. The species of the Afrotropical Highlands biome include some spectacular or rare birds, such as Musophaga johnstoni, Bradypterus alfredi, Nectarinia reichenowi, Nectarinia johnstoni and Nectarinia stuhlmanni. Seventeen species of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome also occur, but all are well represented in other sites.
Non-bird biodiversity: Two species of forest tree, Hypericum bequaertii and Schefflera polysciadia, are only known from Rwenzori, and seven others are restricted to Rwenzori and other montane forests of the south-western border areas of Uganda. Twenty-five species of invertebrate new to science have been described from the area in the last 15 years. Mammals of conservation concern include Cephalophus nigrifrons rubidus (EN), Loxodonta africana (EN), Pan troglodytes (EN), Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii (VU) and Cercopithecus l’hoesti (LR/nt); subspecies of Cercopithecus mitis and Procavia capensis are only known from this park.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Rwenzori mountains were declared a Forest Reserve in 1941 and the first management plan was prepared in 1948. This prescribed that the reserve was to be managed strictly as a protection forest. It was recognized as a large catchment area that gave rise to numerous streams which supplied water to the surrounding communities as well as maintained the flow of water to Lakes George, Edward and Albert. These lakes support an important fishing industry. Rwenzori Forest Reserve was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a World Heritage Site in 1995. The central peaks have long been visited by mountaineers, but tourism in the late 1990s was adversely affected by insecurity.Animals in the park have suffered greatly from hunting by surrounding communities. However, little agricultural encroachment has taken place as the local people respect the boundary. They are not happy about the loss of traditional rights to harvest forest products for domestic use and to use footpaths across the range. With the increasing involvement of local communities in the management of the park, and the realization of tangible benefits in terms of employment and improvement of social services, the attitude of the local people is now beginning to change. Unfortunately, insecurity caused by rebel insurgence in recent years has affected the park, so that management is not in full control of the park—a situation that encourages illegal activities.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ruwenzori (Rwenzori) Mountains National Park. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 17/10/2019.