Semuliki National Park (SMP) is situated in the extreme west of Uganda, in Bundibugyo district. It lies along the Uganda/Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border within the western arm of the East African Rift Valley. In the southeast are the Rwenzori Mountains, to the west is the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the north are the Semuliki Flats and Lake Albert further on.
Semuliki Natioanl Park is an eastern extension of the vast Ituri forest in Democratic Republic of Congo. It forms part of the forest continuum resulting out of the climatic upheavals of the Pleistocene and therefore one of the richest areas for both flora and fauna in Africa (especially for birds).
Semuliki National Park (220km2) was gazetted in October 1993. The park occupies a flat with gently undulating landform ranging from 670m to 760m above sea level. Since all streams and rivers from the surrounding areas drain through the park, coupled with the poor drainage and topography, many areas in the park are flooded during the rainy season. The average annul rainfall is 1,250mm with peaks from March to May and September to December. The temperatures vary from 18°C with relatively small daily variations.
Semuliki National Park is the only lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa classified as moist and semi-deciduous. There are 336 tree species recorded of which 24 are restricted to Semuliki National Park, to the eastern part of the range, or are shared with only one or two neighbouring forests; They include Isolana congolana, Nesogordonia kabingaensis and Ejacis guineesis. Some tree species in Semuliki National Park such as Cordia millenii and Lovoa surymertonii are considered to be endangered.
A survey carried out in 1999 by the Forest Department determined that, compared to other forest parks in Uganda, Semuliki is of exceptional diversity for small mammals, birds and butterflies. Fauna recorded include 435 bird species (about 34% of Uganda’s total), some of which cannot be found elsewhere in East Africa, including some of the continent’s most spectacular and sought after birds such as horn bills and lyre tailed honey guide.
There are 63 species of mammals, 9 species of which are diurnal forest primates (e.g. chimpanzees, blue monkey, vervet monkeys and olive baboon), while nocturnal primates include pottos and galagos. The following species of mammals are also found in Semuliki National Park: – Forest buffaloes, blue duiker, beecroft’s flying squirrels, pigmy squirrel, little collared fruit bat, water chevrotain and target rat.
At least 374 species of butterflies and moths have been identified including 46 species of forest swallowtails and charaxes plus at least 81 species of large moth, 12 of which are classified as restricted. The wide range of species is attributed not only to the forest’s location, but also to the varied habitats, forest swamp, grassland, bush land and an extensive system of hot springs, warm swamp and savanna woodland.
There are four ethnic groups living around the park. The Bamba and Bakonjo are found in the valley and mountain slopes respectively and both are agriculturalists depending on cash crops like coffee, cocoa and food crops mainly bananas, rice and potatoes.
The Batuku who occupy the rift valley floor, north of the park are pastrolists who depend entirely on cattle products which they trade in with their neighbours (in both Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo).
The Batwa (pigmies) are hunters and gatherers, and are an Ituri ethnic group who historically depended and still depend on Semuliki Forest. Their life style is now changing due to interaction with other local communities and the impact of tourism. In 1993, the Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA) convinced the Batwa and resettled them near Ntandi in a bid to integrate them into local cultural and agricultural life, but the project failed. The Batwa now spend part of their time in their new homes and the other in their traditional homes (the forest). All in all, they now live by hunting, fruit gathering, assistance from local communities and contributions from tourists who go to interact with them.
Jungle life in Semuliki National Park is breathtaking especially for birders, primate, butterfly and plant lovers. The jungle walk takes one up to the meandering River Semuliki, the only one of is type in East Africa. You may also see forest buffaloes and elephants, sitatungas, leopards, crocodiles, various primates and a wide range of forest and water birds. Visitors can also come with fishing facilities for sport fishing along the river.
A trip to Semuliki National Park has the most marvelous and breathtaking views. Come and experience the thrilling meandering Bundibugyo road through the Rwenzori escarpments. While in the mountains, the road offers scenic views of the meandering Semuliki River, fuming hot springs and the tropical ran forest extending to Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two hot springs are situated in a tract of hot mineral encrusted swampland, where visitors see a two-metre jet of hot water (1300C and a pool (12m diameter) of oozing boiling water (1060C). One can boil food especially eggs in the natural boiler within ten minutes and eat it. While in Semuli National Park, visitors can arrange a trip to nearby Protected Areas like Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Kibale National Park and Toro – Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
You can travel to Semuliki National Park by road. There are two major roads from Kampala to Fort Port Portal: Kampala to Fort Portal via Mubende is about 300kms (about 4-5 hours drive) while Kampala to Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara, and Kasese is about 510kms (7-8 hours). While the Kampala-Fort Portal via Mubende is much shorter, the Kampala – Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese gives you opportunity to see or visit Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
From Fort Portal, it is two (2) hours drive on a murram road to Sempaya gate (52kms) and a 4WD vehicle is recommended. The drive to Sempaya takes one through a winding road through the lower ranges of Rwenzori Mountains where at several places one can view the rift valley floor where the Semuliki flats and Toro–Semuliki Wildlife Reserve are located. The park headquarters at Ntandi is 5km further from Sempaya gate along the same route.
Using public means, one can take a taxi (minibus) or a bus from Kampala to Fort Portal. At Fort Portal Taxi Park, board one of the pick-up trucks or bus from Bundibugyo and stop at Sempaya gate. Return trip will be by the same means but avoid leaving too late (not later than 4:00pm) because you may fail to get transport. Alternatively, while in Fort Portal you may contact Kabarole Tours, on Plot 1 Molidina Street to organize for your excursion to semuliki National Park.
The park has limited accommodation facilities, however, there are a number of accommodation facilities in Fort Portal and Bundibugyo. There is a campsite at Bumaga, about 3kms from Sempaya gate. Preparation of meals is on order. There is also provision for one to bring and prepare his/her own food at the site. Cooking utensils are also available for hire.