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Mountain Gorilla Conservation in Uganda is limited to 2 National Parks. Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi Impenetrable. These two parks are small islands of wilderness surrounded by densely populated farmland. This location and its surroundings have a great impact on the conservation of these great apes. These conservation challenges are handled by Uganda Wildlife Authority((UWA) which manages these parks as one conservation area termed - Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi by Kathleen Ricker
Mountain Gorilla in Bwindi by Kathleen Ricker

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) is located in south-western Uganda between latitude 0o53’S to 1o8’S and longitude 29o35’ to 29o50’E and covers an area of 330.8 km2 It is situated on the edge of the Western Rift Valley, occupying the highest blocks of the Kigezi Highlands  The park lies along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at about 29 km by road to the north-west of Kabale town and 30 km north of Kisoro town. BINP is located in Rubanda County of Kabale District, Kinkizi County of Kanungu District, and Mutanda County of Kisoro District.

Bwindi is home to about half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). It has been managed as a protected area since 1932. The colonial government first gazetted it as a forest reserve and then as a game sanctuary in 1961. From then up to 1991, it was managed as both a forest reserve and game sanctuary, under the joint management of the Forest and Game departments of Uganda. In 1991, it was gazetted as a national park – this upgrading in status due to the forest being seen as a vital refuge for some of Uganda’s rarest and most threatened flora and fauna. Other reasons included the need to conserve ecological resources of high biodiversity value in the forested area and to protect the forest as an important economic resource (UWA, 2002). The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1994. Historically, local communities have used Bwindi forest as a source of timber, minerals, non-timber forest resources, game meat and agricultural land. These activities led to significant losses of forest over a period up to the late 1980s. Since 1991, the forest’s tourism potential (mainly gorilla tourism) has been an additional direct economic value.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP) is situated in the western-most corner of south-western Uganda in Kisoro District, 10 km south of Kisoro town, bordered by the Republic of Rwanda to the south and the DRC to the west. It lies at latitude 1o23’ S and longitude 29o39’ E. MGNP is contiguous with Parc National des Virunga (240 km2) in the DRC, and Parc National des Volcans (160 km2) in Rwanda, all forming the transboundary protected area known as the Virunga Conservation Area with a combined area of 434 km2.

The area covered by MGNP has fallen under various protected area categories since 1930. Originally it was managed by the colonial government as a gorilla sanctuary from 1930 to 1941, and later as both a game and forest reserve from 1941 to 1991 under the joint authority of the Game and Forest Departments. MGNP was formally gazetted as a national park in 1991. The total area of the park is 33.7 km2, with boundaries corresponding to those of the 1930 gorilla sanctuary. The park area had been heavily encroached and settled, and its creation led to the displacement of over 2,400 people in 1991.

BINP and MGNP are now managed jointly (as Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Area). Surrounding them is the steeply sloping terrain of the Kigezi highlands, supporting one of the highest human population densities in Africa. The provisional results of the 2002 housing and population census indicate that Kisoro District (the most densely populated of the three districts surrounding the two parks) has an average population density of 323/km2, and this density has increased by 48 people/km2 since 1991 (UBOS, 2002). Rapid population growth in the south-west of Uganda has placed acute demands on the region’s natural resources. Cultivation now extends to, and covers, most hilltops, wetlands are being drained, and very little of the original forest cover remains.

The people who live adjacent to the two parks have a variety of interests regarding their use and management. Within the communities are specialist user groups with common interests such as beekeeping, traditional medicines, basketry, pit sawing, game hunting and fishing, and gold mining. Of particular note is the ‘Batwa’, a marginalised ethnic group of hunter-gatherers, with their roots in the pigmy population of eastern Congo and central Africa. The two forests possess important social and cultural values for the Batwa such as religious/sacred sites, burial grounds and footpaths that connected family members and markets on opposite sides of the forest area. Today, no Batwa are known to be permanently living in Bwindi, having been evicted in 1961 when the forest became a game sanctuary. Many now squat near the perimeter of the two parks, in very primitive conditions, eking out a living from illegal hunting and honey gathering, as well as selling their labour to farming communities 

Revenue Sharing programme

The park revenue sharing programme, overseen by UWA, supports community development projects within parishes bordering the two parks such as the rehabilitation or expansion of schools, and health centres. At the start of the programme in the late 1990s, the funds were generated from an allocation of 12 per cent of gorilla trekking fees but this subsequently changed to an allocation of 20 per cent of park entry fees.