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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