Semliki National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This park, sometimes referred to as Bwamba forest, lies in the Albertine Rift Valley, north-west of the Rwenzori mountains, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Lamia and Semliki rivers bound the park to the west and north, and the Fort Portal–Bundibugyo road forms part of its boundary to the south. The Park is contiguous with the DRC’s Virunga National Park (IBA CD010) and with the small North Rwenzori Forest Reserve in Uganda. Much of its flat to gently undulating landscape is poorly drained and floods during rainy seasons. Much of the park (c.19,500 ha) is covered by forest, which is classified as moist semi-deciduous and which is dominated over large areas by a single tree species, Cynometra alexandrii. Swamp-forest communities occupy about 7% of the area, dominated by Mitragyna, oil-palm Elaeis and Ficus. The breakdown of law and order in the 1970s and early 1980s resulted in about 30% of the original forest cover being cleared for agriculture and settlement. However, the encroachers were evicted in 1988 and 1990, and the forest is now slowly regenerating.The Semliki forest is cut off from the rest of East Africa by the natural barrier of the Rwenzori massif. Its forests represent an easterly extension of the great Ituri forest of north-eastern DRC and its flora and fauna show strong affinities with the Congo-Basin forests. There are also strong affinities between the people and cultures of Bwamba and those of neighbouring DRC.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Semliki Forest represents the only significant example of Congo-Basin vegetation in Uganda. A large number of species of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome reach their eastern limits here, in one of the richest localities for forest birds in Africa. The site contains half as many species of bird as the entire Congo and nearly two-thirds as many as in the 181,000 km² of the whole Upper Guinea Forests.No less than 70 species are only known within Uganda from Semliki Forest, including 31 of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome. Other species with very limited national ranges occur, such as Bycanistes fistulator (also recorded in Budongo Forest Reserve), Phyllanthus atripennis and Trochocercus nitens (also known from Mabira Forest Reserve), Ploceus aurantius (also common along the northern shores of Lake Victoria) and Malimbus erythrogaster (also recorded from Kibale National Park).Semliki forest is close to the Mount Rwenzori ranges, and the River Semliki meanders (forming oxbow lakes in some places) along the western border down to Lake Albert and is surrounded by swamp, where four species of the Lake Victoria Basin biome, including Laniarius mufumbiri and Cisticola carruthersi, occur. The site also has, surprisingly, six species of the Afrotropical Highlands biome, all widespread elsewhere in the country.

Non-bird biodiversity: Semliki Forest is outstandingly rich in wildlife—the area is believed to have been a forest refugium during the last arid period of the Pleistocene era, when conditions elsewhere on the continent were too dry to support forest vegetation. The park fauna is very rich and includes eight species of diurnal forest primate, as well as 51 species of forest swallowtail and Charaxes butterflies, including Papilio antimachus (DD). Milicia excelsa (LR/nt), Cordia millenii and Lovoa swynnertonii (EN) are forest trees considered endangered in the area. One species of primate and eight other mammals, as well as one butterfly, are only recorded from this area in East Africa. Threatened mammals include Loxodonta africana (EN) and Pan troglodytes (EN).

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Semliki National Park was gazetted as Semliki Forest Reserve in 1932 and formally gazetted as a National Park in 1993. Conservation efforts have faced a number of obstacles that largely relate to the conflict over land-use by local communities who desire to utilize the park resources as they have done traditionally. This has resulted in agricultural encroachment, poaching, illegal removal of forest products and hostility by the local community. Involving the local people in decision-making is a major objective of current management, supported by an IUCN project. The high population density in Bwamba county (300 people/km², increasing at 3.4% per annum) poses a big problem for the future, with people saying that they need more land for cultivation.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Semliki National Park. Downloaded from on 25/05/2022.