Semliki National Park
Area: 220km² with an altitude of 670-760m above sea level
Semliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to national park status in 1993. It is the only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, hosting 441 recorded bird species and 53 mammals. Large areas of this low-lying park may flood during the wet season, a brief reminder of the time when the entire valley lay at the bottom of a lake for seven million years.
Four distinct ethnic groups live near the park – Bwamba farmers live along the base of the Rwenzori while the Bakonjo cultivate the mountain slopes. Batuku cattle keepers inhabit on the open plains and Batwa pygmies, traditionally hunter gathers, live on the edge of the forest.
Semliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests, one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.
The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
While Semliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
The Semliki Valley, deep in the heart of Uganda’s Western rift valley, is a prime conservation area. Its lies at the base of the Albertine Rift to the west of Fort Portal, the magnificent Rwenzori foothills lies to the south, Lake Albert to the north.
Boosting both a National Park and a Game Reserve, much of the valley is untouched. This is Uganda’s oldest wildlife reserve and stretches over 540 km². The park was gazetted in 1993 and is approximately 220 km². The park protects a practically unspoiled tropical lowland forest. The forest forms the easternmost tip of the Central Africa rain-forest.
One of the most attractive features of the game reserve is that it displays a classic geographic crossroad, where the tropical rain-forest meets grassy savannah, where wetlands give over to the majestic Lake Albert and the flat plains are punctuated by deep river valleys. This unique geography is reflected in the diversity of wildlife, here habits both the Central Africa forest species, e.g. forest elephant, and the savannah species of East Africa, e.g. lion, leopard, antelope. There are 11 recorded species found in Semliki that have been recorded nowhere else in Uganda, including the pygmy antelope, 2 types of flying squirrel and 6 types of bat.
The birdlife is amazing with both endemics and migrants seen in the park, even the rare shoebill lives within the wetlands of Semliki National Park. Within the lush forest canopies chimps and other primate species can be found and tourists can trek and observe these primates as one of the many activities the park has to offer.
The most popular attraction to Semliki National Park is the collection of hot springs at Sempaya, which can be reached from a short walking trail. The hot springs are situated in the midst of rainforest and palm trees. The largest spring is a geyser shooting up from an 8m-wide opening in a low salt sculpture. The emerging water has a temperature of above 100°C. A visit to the pygmy village at Ntandi or a boat ride on Lake Albert are also popular with travelers.