SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK

SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK

Introduction Semliki National Park is found in western Uganda around areas of Bundibugyo lying on the border between Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda south of Lake Albert and northwest of Rwenzori Mountain bordering River Semliki and River Lamia. The park lies within the Albertine Rift on a flat and gently undulating landform of about 670-760m above sea level. The park covers to about 219square kilometers of East Africa’s low land tropical rainforests making it one of the richest areas in flora and fauna in Africa. The area covered by Semliki National Park was first managed as a game reserve from 1932 to 1993 by the colonial government before it being declared a National Park by the Ugandan government in 1993 mainly to curb deforestation. Forests in Semliki National Park are an extension of the great Ituri forests that stretch to River Zaire and thus it being naturally gifted with Central African tree species and animal species. Currently, the Park is regarded as atop birding destination in Uganda with over 410 bird species 67% of the birds being forest birds. The Semliki forests were also a habitat to the Basua pygmies who lived in the forests for thousands of years before being evicted from the forests and made to settle around the park borders. There are also other tribes that live around the park for example the Bamba who grow crops at the foots of mountain Rwenzori, Bakonjo who cultivate the slopes of the mountains, the Batuku pastoralists and the Batwa hunters and wild fruit gatherers entirely depending on forests for survival. Attractions in Semliki National Park River Semliki River Semliki is one of the tourist attractions found in Semliki National Park. This River meanders through the forests forming ox-bow lakes along the western border down to   Lake Albert. This is a 140 kilometer water channel that flows north from Lake Edward and having its mouth into Lake Albert with several tributaries such as River Lamia. This River attracts various bird species and animal species that are entirely eye catching on someone’s visit to Semliki National Park. Sempaya hot springs These hot springs are also referred to as Semliki hot springs since they are located within Semliki National Park. These springs have high temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius. Of the two hot springs, the locals refer to one as being a male and the other being a female hot spring with temperatures that can easily boil one’s eggs and bananas for approximately ten minutes on his/her safari. Geographically, the springs are said to be formed as a result geothermal process that forces the water to move through a hot rock flowing onto the earth’s surface. The female hot spring is locally referred to as “Nyasimbe” where many locals go for healing with a belief that there are secret gods who administer healing upon them. On the other hand, the male hot spring is locally referred to as Bitete which formed before the female. Interestingly, it is believed that these Hot springs were once a married couple which disappeared from the forest and later Bitete immerging as a hot spring that compelled Nyasimbe to immerge as another hot spring in a later time who had come looking for her husband. Therefore with all its interesting history, one leaves Semliki National Park amazed and marveling. Bird species Semliki National Park is one of the top birding destinations in Uganda. The Park is naturally gifted with over 410 bird species majority of them being forest birds. Bird species include Capuchin Babbler, Dwarf Honey guide, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Forest ground Thrush, Orange weaver, Sassi’s Olive Greenbul, White-tailed Hornbil, Black-wattled Hornbil, Long-tailed Hawk, Lyre-tailed Honey guide, Nkulengu Rail, African Dwarf kingfisher, Bates’ Nightjar, African Goshawk, Great sparrows, Red-thighed Sparrows, White-Spotted Flufftail, Black-winged starling, Yellow-throated Nicator, Yellow throated Cuckoo, Western Bronze-napped Pigeon, Gabon woodpecker, Shoebill stork, Lemon-bellied Crombec, African wood owl, to mention but a few. Semliki National Park also attracts and accommodates half of the bird species found in Democratic Republic of Congo and some migratory bird species from Central Africa making it a perfect destination for birders on an African safari. Animal species Semliki National Park is naturally gifted with various wildlife animals such as forest Elephants, forest Buffaloes, Waterbucks, Leopards, Bush babies, Uganda kobs, Waterbucks, Warthogs, Crocodiles, Pygmy Hippopotamuses, White-billed Duiker, pygmy flying Squirrels, fire-footed Rope squirrel, Bay Duikers, Dwarf Antelopes, water Chevrotains, primates like the Blue Monkeys, Chimpanzees, Guereza Colobus, Vervet Monkeys, Olive Baboons, nocturnal primates like the Pattos and Galagos to mention but a few. All the above animal species can be spotted and viewed while on a nature walk and a game drive. Astonishing vegetation Vegetation in Semliki National Park is classified as semi-deciduous forests making it the only typical tropical forest in the Pearl of Africa. Its vegetation is dominated by iron wood also referred to as the Cynometra Alexandii with Riverine swampy forests along River Semliki and Savannah grassland stretching to the northeastern part of the park. Semliki forests are entailed with over 336 tree species that range from restricted tree species for example Ecuphorbia cactus, Chrysophyll begui to endangered tree species. These make Semliki National Park a very unique safari destination that should be on one’s checklist for a Ugandan safari.     Culture Semliki National Park is surrounded by various and interesting cultural groups for example the Batwa who were initially forest people feeding on forest leaves, gathering fruits and great hunters. These are short people who originated from the Itura Congo forests in the Congo Basins. They are social and base their political leadership on Kingship. These pygmies were later evicted from the forests and currently settle in Boma cultural village at Ntandi near Semuliki National Park headquarters. The Batwa are allowed to demonstrate their ancient life style to tourists through cultural performances and can easily access the park during their cultural ceremonies, while collecting resources like herbs, firewood, water and other fruits from the forests but totally restricted from hunting. The other cultural group is the Bakiga who settle in the communities of Kasesenge-Kyakabaseke community on the eastern escarpment of the Rift Valley. The Bakiga are prone farmers and a hardworking tribal group. The Ntoroko fishing community settles in the Semliki Valley around shores of Lake Albert. On one’s visit to this community, he/she gets exposed to various local fishing gears used by the locals. The other cultural group is the Batukus pastoralists who were believed to be the Royal army of king Kabalega of Bunyoro kingdom. These are prominent cattle keepers who mainly rare long-horned ankole cattle mainly for milk production. The Bakonjo cultural group is another group that cultivates on the Mountain ranges of Rwenzori settling in the community called Karugutu situated in the Southern part of the park. Activities in Semliki National Park Birding Semliki National Park is one of the best destinations for birders in Africa. Bird watching especially for water birds takes place along Rivers of Semliki, Lamia, Kirumia and along Lake Albert shores where the rare Shoebill stork can be spotted.  Forest birds can also be spotted in the areas of Sempaya and Ntandi such as the Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, the Great Blue and Ross’s Turaco, Yellow-throated Nicator, White-crested Hornbill among others. This activity is conducted with a help of an experienced bird guide who leads one through the trails such as Sempaya nature walk trail, Kirumia trail penetrating forests towards the springs at an elevation where these beautiful feathered creatures can be viewed. Semliki River is about 160km long meandering through forests leaving them muddy and logged with water which attracts various species such as butterflies, birds and animals. It is so amazing, interesting and adventurous for one to take this long walk along the River since it’s a home to a lots of Crocodiles, Hippopotamuses and Birds.     Hiking to Sempaya Hot Springs Hiking to the famous Sempaya hot springs involves one moving through a relatively large forest where one is able to view various wildlife for example primates like grey checked-mangabey, Red-tailed Monkeys, Black and white Colobus Monkeys to mention but a few. Various bird species and forest mammals can also be viewed while on a hike to the Hot springs of Semliki. This can approximately take one an hour to hike to Bitete the male hot springs and 30minutes to Nyasimbe the female hot springs. It is so astonishing that one can be advised to pack a few raw eggs and banana that he/she can cook on arrival to the Hot springs. Guided nature walks Semliki National Park offers tourists a guided nature walk with the assistance of an experienced tour guide through the Kirumia trail that is over 13km penetrating forests to Semliki River. This nature based activity offers one the opportunity to bird watching and getting to know more about tree species in the park. Red monkey track is another trial that on can hike through which offers the best sights for primates like the rare DeBrazza’s Monkey, Blue Monkeys and the Red tailed Monkeys. Along the trails one has to enjoy the ear catching sound of birds and other wildlife. Game drives Game drives in Semliki National Park offers the best opportunity to spot over 60 mammal species that may include forest Elephants, Buffaloes, waterbucks, Leopards, pygmy Hippopotamuses, Crocodiles, Uganda Kobs, Bush babies, Warthogs to mention but a few. This is done with a help of a well-informed tour ranger who entirely gives information about wildlife in the Park for example the animals breeding behavior, feeding habits, to mention but a few. One has the capability to choose whether to conduct a game drive in the early morning or evening depending on his or her preference. Cultural encounters Semliki National Park is surrounded by several cultural groups such as the Bakonjo tribe that are great cultivators, Batukus pastoralists, Batwa people who were entirely forest people depending on Semliki forests for food and survival. A visit to these Batwa people is the most thrilling and interesting due to their ways of living and the historical back ground behind their existence. These are a social group of people and on one’s visit to this group he or she is guaranteed of amazing cultural performances. A visit to the Bambuti pygmies who are close relatives to the Basu pygmies of Congo is another riveting cultural encounter in Semliki National Park. Chimpanzee trekking This is one of the activities one should expect in Semliki National Park. Chimpanzee trekking starts off early in the morning after a briefing with a help of a tour ranger and lasts to about 1 to 4 hours depending on where our closest cousins could be located. This involves penetrating through shrubs, thickets, swamps as one is also able to spot other primates like the Black and White Colobus Monkeys, Central African Red Colobus, Blue and Red tailed monkeys, Baboons, Grey-checked mangabeys to mention but a few. This is also accompanied with various bird species that can’t skip ones sight. Trekking our closest cousins in Semliki National Park still gives one a memorable experience that he/she will greatly appreciate The best time to visit Semliki National Park The Park is open to visitors all year round although the best time to visit Semliki National Park is during the dry season in the months of December to February and the peak season of June to September. During the dry season, the trails are passable compared to wet seasons when the Park is over flooded and logged with waters from River Semliki and its tributaries.
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