Semuliki National Park

Semuliki National Park

Semuliki National Park is found in western Uganda in the district of Bundibugyo which lies on Uganda’s border with DR Congo. The park is bordered by Lake Albert on the northern side and the Rwenzori Mountains on the south Eastern side. Two rivers, Lamia and Semuliki are found at the park’s borders. Semuliki National Park lies on relatively flat land making it prone to flooding when the Park Rivers receive too much rain during the wet season. Semuliki began as a forest reserve in 1932 and was made a national park in 1993 mainly to curb deforestation. Semuliki National Park is often confused with the Semliki Wildlife Reserve which is adjacent to the park. The forests in Semuliki are an extension of the great Ituri Forest that stretches all the way to the River Zaire. This extension implies that many of the tree and animal species found in Central Africa can be found in the park.  The conditions in Semuliki are completely different from any other national park in Uganda, Kenya, or Tanzania but instead similar to those in central Africa.

Semuliki is well known as a top birding destination in Uganda. The park has over 410 species of birds. About 67 percent of the species are forest birds like the Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Capuchin Babbler, Dwarf Honeyguide, Forest Ground Thrush, orange weaver, Purple-breasted Sunbird, Sassi’s Olive Greenbul, and White-tailed Hornbill. Because the forest joins with that from DR Congo, some species unique to central Africa like the Black-wattled Hornbill, Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, and Nkulengu Rail can be found in the park.

There are 60 species of mammal in the park among which include the bay duiker, Beecroft’s Anomalure, flying squirrels, bush babies, bush pigs, civets, Dwarf Antelope, elephants, fruit bats, Fire-footed Rope squirrel, forest buffalos, pygmy hippos, leopards, Little collard fruit Bat, Semuliki National Park in Ugandamona monkeys, pygmy flying squirrel, Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Sitatunga, target rats, water chevrotains, water bucks, warthogs, Uganda Kob, White-bellied Duiker and the Zenker’s Flying Mouse. About 300 species of butterflies (like the characters and forest swallowtails) and 8 primates can be found in the park forests like blue monkeys, chimpanzees, De Brazza’s Monkeys, Guereza Colobus, vervet monkeys, and olive baboons. There are also night primates like the patios and Galagos.

The forests and animals in Semuliki National Park continue to be threatened by encroachment from humans living around the park. The park animals are still hunted for their meat while the forests provide herbs, vegetables, and firewood. Two main tribes live outside the park, the Bamba and Bakonjo.

Semuliki National Park Uganda

The Bamba grow crops at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains while the Bakonjo cultivate the slopes of the mountain. There are also pastoralists like the Batuku and the Batwa hunters at the edge of the forest in the park. About 120 Basua still live as hunters and gatherers in the forest. The Basua are pygmies similar to the Batwa and have also lived in the forests for thousands of years but their recent eviction from parts of the forest and failure to adapt to life outside the forest has led to concerns about the impact of unplanned eviction on certain indigenous tribes. Like some of the forests and wildlife being protected, the Basua people face total extinction and the eradication of their culture and heritage as a result of being removed from the forest.

Things to do in Semuliki National Park

butterfly in semuliki national park

There is no shortage of what to do in the park. Tourists interested in visiting Semuliki can choose to go for forest walks, birdwatching, primates watching, visiting the two hot springs, hiking, and game drives. A cultural visit to one of the local tribes living outside the park should not be missed for a complete safari in Semuliki National Park.

Visiting the Sempaya Hot Springs: The two hot springs have made the park very famous. Tourists are more fascinated by the local stories about their formation than the scientific explanation. There is a female and male hot spring. The Male hot spring is about 12 meters in diameter and is called Bintente while the female in Nyasimbi. A boiling geyser gushes out steam and bubbling water several meters high and can be seen more than 1 kilometer away. Hotspings in Semuliki National ParkThe water gushing out is hot enough to boil eggs in ten minutes. In the past, the people living in the forest would use the hot springs to cook food but this has been limited by the park management to allow tourists to visit the placeAs visitors head towards the hot springs, they encounter several species of birds and small primates climbing up and down the trees. The park authorities have built a tower and boardwalk for observing the hot springs at a safe distance. Local tribes usually organize cultural dances to entertain visitors who have come to see the hot springs. Apart from the hot springs, birds, and primates, visitors can also visit the Mungiro Falls or go for a forest walk nearby.

Visiting the Semuliki River: Semuliki River is about 160 kilometers long. This muddy forest river is one of the water bodies that supply water to the great river Nile. The river is home to crocodiles, hippos, and hundreds of birds. Visitors love taking long walks to follow the river as it meanders through forests and rift valley flours.

Forest and Nature Walks: One of the popular activities in the park is taking a walk in the forest jungles to spot the vegetation, birds, butterflies, and primates. Forest Walks usually begin around the Sempaya Park gate ending at the hot springs. There are three established walking trails in the park. One of them is the Sempaya Nature Trail which is 8 km long, the Red-monkey Track about 11 km, and the Kirumia Hiking Trail 13 Kilometers. Hikers need to carry rudimentary items like machetes to cut overgrown vegetation as they clear paths in the forest. Visitors interested in camping in the forest need to come with their own equipment.

A tour of Semuliki National ParkGame drives: Game drives in Semuliki National Park offer opportunities to spot over 52 mammals already mentioned. The park has three major tracks used for game drives that pass through the savannah plains of the park. Both day and night game drives are arranged by staff in the park. Visitors need to come with a good four-wheel drive vehicle to pass through the more difficult sections of the park, particularly during the rainy season.

Chimpanzee tracking:
Indiana University habituated some clans of chimpanzees that are now open for tourism. Chimpanzee tracking permits cost $30 for international visitors. While tracking the chimpanzees, visitors should also expect to spot smaller primates like the Black and white Colobus monkeys, Central African red colobus, Dent’s Mona monkeys,  grey-cheeked mangabey, Olive baboons, and Red-tailed monkeys among many others. It is important to come prepared with the right clothing and equipment to protect against stinging insects, sharp tree branches, and thorns. Come with enough drinking water and light snacks.

Cultural visits and experiences:
The area around the National Park is home to four indigenous tribes. Visitors can choose to visit any of the four tribes living on the edges of the park. The Batwa pygmies are hunters and forest gatherers while the Bakonjo and Bamba grow crops (rice, matooke/bananas, potatoes, and cocoa) on the slopes of the mount Rwenzori. The Batuku live in the northern section of the park as pastoralists. Tourism and modernization are changing the lives of these tribes and particularly the Batwa. The Batwa used to live freely in the forests of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo but have been relocated to areas outside the national parks. Some of the Batwa in Semuliki National Park have been resettled in an area near Ntandi with the help of a Christian organization ADRA but with little success as they still find themselves longing for their old way of life in the forest. Some of the Batwa with support from the Uganda Wildlife Authority showcase their cultural heritage to visitors through dance, storytelling, and other demonstrations. The Batwa grow and smoke Marijuana.

Semuliki National Park is one of the best places for birdwatching in Uganda. Semuliki National Park has half of the bird species found in the Democratic Republic of Congo because the park is an extension of the greater Ituri forest of the DR Congo which stretches up to river Zaire. This extension allows species from central Africa to move up to Semuliki National Park. Birding in the park can be done in the forest, around the Sempaya hot springs, or behind the rangers post. Birding in Semuliki National ParkApart from species already mentioned earlier, others include the African Dwarf Kingfishers, African Piculet, Bates’ Nightjar, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Black-collared Lovebird, Black-wattled Hornbills, African Goshawk, Ayres Hawk-Eagle, Cassin’s Spinetail, Great Sparrows, Red-thighed Sparrows, White-spotted Flufftail, Black-winged Starling, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Chestnut-breasted Negro finches, Chestnut-flanked Goshawk, Chocolate-backed, Crested Malimbes, Eastern Bearded Greenbuls, Forest Francolin, Forest Thrushes, Gabon Woodpecker, Grant’s Bluebill,Green-tailed Bristlebill, Grey Ground Thrushes, Hartlaubs’s Duck, Ituri Batis, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Northern Bearded Scrub Robin, Pale-fronted finches, Piping Hornbills, Red-bellied Malimbes, Red-billed Dwarf, Red-billed Helmet Shrike, Red-chested Owlet, Red-eyed Puff-back, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-sided Broadbill, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Simple Greenbulls,Spot-breasted Ibis, Spotted Lyre-tailed Honeyguides, Western Bronze-napped Pigeon, White-bellied Kingfisher, White-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Nicator and Zenker’s Honeyguides. Late in the evening, you can start to hear the nocturnal residents like the African Wood Owl and the Buff-spotted Flufftail.