Uganda’s most important park known for bird watching. The Park covers an area of 220km2 and is found in Bundibugyo district in the down floor of the Semliki section of the Albertine Rift Valley. This forested park contains numerous species associated with those in central rather than eastern Africa. Thatch huts are shaded by West African oil palms, the Semliki River which is marked as an international boundary since the river branched from river Congo.
Semliki is one of Africa’s most biodiverse forests and is particularly noted for its varied bird population. This biodiversity is enhanced by its great age, for it is one of Africa’s most ancient forests. During the dry conditions of the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago, most of Africa’s forests shrank and disappeared. Only a few patches like Semliki and Bwindi survived, protecting forest species during the arid apocalypse until they could eventually emerge to recolonise a better, wetter world. Today the Semliki valley is a hothouse for vegetation growth, with temperatures rising to a humid 30°C doused by an annual 1250mm of rain, mostly between March-May and September-December.
While Semuliki’s species have been evolving for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes.
Hot springs bubble up from the depths beneath Sempaya to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
The low-lying park lies on the rift’s sinking floor, most of it just 670m above sea level. Large areas may flood during the wet seasons; brief reminders of the time when the entire valley lay at the bottom of a lake for 7 million years ago.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Classified as Moist Semi-Deciduous forest, Semliki is the only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa. The centre of the forest is dominated by Cynometra but the edges are attractively varied, with river swamp forest along the Semliki River and beautiful mixed forest around Sempaya.
A spillover from the Ituri of the Congo basin, Semliki contains 336 tree species. It also supports an exceptional variety of mammals, birds and butterflies. This is attributed to the forest’s great age, its transitional location between central and eastern Africa, and to a variety of habitats, notably forest, swamp, and savannah woodland.
About 441bird species are recorded that represent 40% of Uganda’s total of over 1000. 216 of these are forest species – 66% of the country’s forest bird list- while the list is expanded by the riverine habitat and a fringe of grassland in the east of the park.
The forest is home to 53 mammals, of which 27 are large mammals; duiker-sized and above, several are Central African species found nowhere else in East Africa. Hippos and crocodiles are found in the Semliki river while the forest is remarkably rich in primates. Chimpanzee, black and white colobus, central African red colobus, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, de Brazza’s monkey, vervet monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, baboon, and Dent’s mona monkey are present. Nocturnal primates include potto and bush baby.
There are four ethnic groups living around the pari Bamba and Bakonjo are found in the valley and mountain slopes respectively and are agriculturalists who plant cash crops such as coffee and cocoa while food crops that include bananas, rice and potatoes for their family upkeep and above there are also pastoralists in the lower values due to the presence of water for the animals reared.