GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

A WORLD HERITAGE SITE:

 

ABOUT THE PARK:

Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP) a World Heritage Site, lies in Western Uganda. It borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the West. It is located in the three districts of Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibugyo.

 

The mountains lie between altitudes 0˚ 06' South and 0˚ 46' North and longitudes 29o 47 West and 30˚ 11' East. The mountain ranges out of which the park has been gazetted are much larger in size running about 80 Kilometres in the North - South direction and 40 Kilometres in the East - West direction. The park is part of the ranges, which rises from about 1670m to 5,109m above sea level. The park covers an area of 995km2. Rwenzori Mountains National Park is a constituent protected area in Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area

 

ECOSYSTEM AND WILDLIFE:

 

Physiography:

The Rwenzori Mountains is a stiff, rugged mountain range resulting from the uplifting caused by tectonic movements responsible for the formation of western rift valley. The park has old basement complex rocks that were extruded from the surrounding plains by the time the western rift valley was formed. The main mass of the range consists of raised basement complex granites. In the central part of the range, these deeply buried rocks carried up with them a belt of hard metamorphosed igneous rocks as they rose. These igneous rocks provide the steep profiles of Mount Stanley and Baker and the Portal peaks.

The block making up Rwenzoris was tilted and thrust up to a height of over 3,000m above the pen plain. The block was obviously eroded and the rift filled with sediments with time resulting into present day topography we find in the region. The soils show a well-marked altitudinal zonation caused by a combination of age, climate and erosion history.

Climate:

The climate is tropical, affected by seasonal movements of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and by altitude and topography. There are two rainy seasons each year; from March to May and September to December. Most of the plains at the foot of the range lie in a rain shadow and get as little as 750mm of rain a year.

 

Vegetation:

The diurnal temperature range is small; the mean maximum and minimum at Bujuku huts being at 10˚C and ˉ1˚ C and the seasonal variation is slight, the maximum being lower during the rains owing to lack or limited sunshine.

The vegetation in the park is largely determined by factors related to elevation and aspect and five distinct zones can be distinguished. These are grassland (1000-2000m), Montane forest (2000-3000m), Bamboo/Minulopsis zone (2500-3500m), Heather/Rapenea Zone (3000-4000m) and the Afro-alpine Moor land zone (4000-4500m).

The most striking plants are found above 3000m, these are the giant tree heathers supporting aerial epiphytic gardens of outstanding botanical and aesthetic interest, some of which are unique to the Rwenzoris. The Afro alpine zone is home to the most graceful of giant lobelia (lobelia wallastoni) and groundsels (Senecio admiralis). These gigantic species are hallmarks of the Rwenzori.

 

Wild Animals:

The Rwenzoris are renowned for species of conservation concern. The park has 54 Albertine Rift endemics of which 5 species are endangered, 14 are threatened and 4 have restricted range. The endangered species include the Rwenzori duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), Montane squirrel (Heliosciurus ruwenzorii), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and Rwenzori range frog (Africana ruwenzorica). Four species have restricted range. These are Rwenzori/Kivu climbing mouse (Dendromus kivu), the Rwenzori Duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), Bradypodion xenorhium and the Uganda clawed frog (Xenopus ruwenzori). The elephants live in the forest up to 2400m. A few buffalo (syncerus cafer) occur in lower valleys. Other animals, which are some times also seen or heard, are chimpanzee, Blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni), Rwenzori colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii) and Bushbuck (Tragelophus scriptus); the principal inhabitants of the bamboo/ minulopsis zone are the Rwenzori duiker which also range to the upper limits of vegetation and the Giant forest Hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni). The hyrax (Procavia johnstoni mackinderi) abounds from 3,000m to 4,000m and occurs in smaller numbers outside these limits.

 

The Rwenzoris support one of the most important bird communities in Uganda with a total of 195 species having been recorded. The forest harbours many rare, threatened and endemic species. There are many birds in the lower zones but they are not easy to see. The most striking is the Rwenzori Turaco, a brightly coloured red, green and blue bird with a strident crackling cry. Francolins are often heard going noisily to roost in the evenings, and the olive pigeon is heard momentarily, whirring swiftly down the forest slopes, other birds often heard or seen are: Archers Robin chat, sunbird, white necked Raven and Mountain buzzards. There are a few other birds of the Alpine zone, the only conspicuous ones being Black Duck which are sometimes seen on the lakes, and the Alpine swift which nest on rocky cliffs and twitter loudly at night visiting the plains by day to feed. Two interesting species of horned chameleon occur in the forest zone. The only recorded snakes so far are Thrapsis Jacksoni, a large black harmless snake, and Atheris vividis, a small green poisonous snake which perches on bushes or elephant grass.

 

Species of flora and fauna make it rich in species of conservation values that have restricted range. The park is habitat to several endemic, endangered, threatened and rare species of the Albertine rift and also an Important Bird Area (IBA).

In 1994, In recognition of the value of the mountain ranges to the international community, the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) designated the Rwenzori Mountains National Park a World Heritage Site.

 

VISITOR ATTRACTIONS

The Rwenzori Mountain ranges have a high tourism potential. A combination of beautiful peaks, glaciers valleys, rivers, lakes, various species of flora and fauna making it scenic, each of the above contributes to the overall awesome beauty one will observe while in a trek in the mountains. Besides, Rwenzoris, the third highest Mountain in Africa and has several high peaks including the 5th, 6th and 7th highest Mountain peaks in Africa. These include Margherita (5,109m), Alexandra (5,091m) and Albert (5,087m). It rises almost 4,000m above the level of the western rift valley and its large size (about 80km in North - South direction and about 40km across) allows it to be seen far off. Over 20 lakes are found in the Mountain. Furthermore, the Great Rift Valley below and escarpment have resulted into scenic falls and hot springs either on the slopes or in the rift valley e.g. Ngitte, Rwajimba and Semuliki among others. Because of the scenic beauty coupled with the challenging gradient, the Rwenzoris are adventurous ranges to even international climbers (as well as the numerous caves and lakes); Rwenzori Mountains are worthy a place to visit. Rwenzori Mountains are also one of the few unspoilt Mountains of the world. This has been mainly because of its rugged and dangerous nature yet this wilderness character is an attraction for many climbers and Mountaineers.

Another major attraction is the stratified vegetation. Some of which is characteristic of the temperate latitude.

 

VISITOR ACTIVITIES:

The main visitor activity offered is trekking the central Rwenzoris and peak climbing. Shorter walks of two to three days are also offered. In addition, day walks or nature walks are conducted in the park. The central hike takes six nights or 7 days and reaches an altitude of 4,627m above sea level. The ascents to the peaks take extra days.

 

The Rwenzoris are renowned for its un-engineered steep and slippery trails and frequent rain. Rainfall and cold temperatures, bogs mud, steep terrain and high altitude make it a challenging trip.

NB. Details of illustrated accounts of ascents to and traverse of the peaks can be obtained from Guide to the Rwenzori by Osmaston and Pasteur, 1972.

Visitor activities in RMNP are operated by Rwenzori mountaineering Services (RMS)

Trekking and peak climbing is scheduled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week

 

MANAGEMENT ACTIVITIES

A General Management Plan (GMP) has been developed for the park. Based on the GMP, there are six main areas identified that need to be addressed in order to ensure better conservation and protection of natural resources and to uplift the conservation integrity of the park. These are community conservation, resource conservation and management, monitoring and research, park operations and maintenance, tourism development and regional cooperation

 

KEY CHALLENGES;

These include the following:

1.      lack of land for infrastructure development

2.      high operational cost

3.      limited tourist products

4.      high human population in adjacent areas

5.      high demand for resources

6.      difficult access to ranger outposts

7.      fires

8.      poaching

9.      inadequate local political support

10.  inadequate marketing

11.  crop raids by wild animals from the park

12.  tourism concession management

13.  waste management