Uganda’s Conservation Areas

Uganda’s list of gazetted conservation areas encompasses 10 national parks, 8 wildlife reserves, 4 wildlife sanctuaries, and 9 Ramsar sites. National parks are accorded higher status and conservation priority than other reserves, and from the visitor’s point of view, they are generally better developed for tourism.

Bureaucratic considerations aside, the most meaningful way to categorize Uganda’s various national parks and reserves is based on the type of habitat they protect. We occasionally refer to some national parks as game or savanna reserves, forest reserves, and montane reserves. In this sense, the term ‘game reserve’ applies to any reserve or national park that protects a savanna habitat and supports typical plains animals. In contrast, the term ‘forest reserve’ refers to any reserve or national park covering a forest environment and associated animals.

The three montane conservation areas considered national parks in Uganda can, in some circumstances, be classified with forest reserves. They all support montane and bamboo forests up to an altitude of about 3,000 meters above sea level, at what point the habitat gives way to Afro-montane moorland at higher altitudes.

National Parks in Uganda

  1. Bwindi Impenetrable | 310 sq km | Forest | mountain gorillas, forest birds
  2. Kibale Forest | 766 sq km | Forest | chimpanzees, monkeys, forest birds
  3. Kidepo Valley | 1,344 sq km | Savanna | dry-country antelopes, predators, and birds
  4. Lake Mburo | 256 sq km | Savanna | wide variety of antelope and waterbirds
  5. Mgahinga | 33 sq km | Montane | mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, hiking, volcanic peaks
  6. Mount Elgon | 1,145 sq km | Montane | hiking, forest birds
  7. Murchison Falls | 3,900 sq km  | Savanna | Murchison Falls, big game, waterbirds
  8. Queen Elizabeth | 1,978 sq km | Savanna | big game, chimps, 612 bird species
  9. The Rwenzori  Mountains | 996 sq km | Montane | mountaineering, forest birds, Afro-montane plants
  10. Semuliki | 220 sq km | Forest | hot springs, Rift Valley setting, 45 birds found nowhere else

Wildlife Reserves in Uganda

Although the list of conservation areas in Uganda includes wildlife reserves, most are merely adjuncts to one of the extensive savanna national parks. The only ones that have any tourist facilities at present are:

  1. Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve, 542 sq km in Western Uganda
  2. Katonga Wildlife Reserve, 207 sq km in Western Uganda
  3. Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, 473 sq km part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area
  4. Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve,  2043 sq km in Karamoja subregion of northeastern Uganda.
  5. Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve, 87 sq km, Western Uganda
  6. Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, 156 sq km found in Queen Elizabeth NP

Forest Reserves

Also, conservation areas in Uganda of interest to tourists are forest reserves. The Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi forest reserves south of Murchison Falls National Park have well-established tourist sites offering camping facilities, bandhas, and guided forest walks.

The Lake Victoria region supports large tracts of forest. The most accessible are Mpanga Forest Reserve near Mpigi and the Mabira Forest Reserve near Jinja. Both reserves offer reasonable accommodation and guided walks.

Kalinzu Forest Reserve between Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park is also developed for tourism. Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo and Kalinzu forests is significantly cheaper than in the national parks.

Ramsar Sites in Uganda

Uganda has 9 Ramsar Conservation areas that BirdLife International recognizes as Important Bird Areas and provides a vital habitat for other threatened plants and animals.

Ramsar sites offer extra protection to the habitats of endangered species such as the globally vulnerable Shoebill, the Papyrus Gonolek, and the Sitatunga, which attract several tourists into the country.

These wetlands’ cultural and socio-economic value is also crucial because local communities depend on them to survive in terms of fish, construction material, medicines, flood protection, water filtration, grazing, and much more.

Ramsar sites in Uganda include:

  • Lake Bisina Wetland System, 542 sq km in Kumi, Katakwi, Soroti
  • Lake Mburo-Nakivali Wetland System, 268 sq km in Mbarara
  • Lake Nakuwa Wetland System, 911 sq km in Kamuli Soroti
  • Lake Opeta Wetland System, 689 sq km in Nakapiripirit, Sironko, Katakwi, Kumi
  • Lutembe Bay Wetland System, 0.98 sq km in Wakiso
  • Mabamba Bay Wetland System, 24 sq km in Mpigi
  • Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Wetland System, 17 sq km in Masindi, Gulu
  • Nabajjuzi Wetland System, 17 sq km in Masaka, Sembabule, Mpigi
  • Sango Bay-Musambwa Island-Kagera Wetland System (SAMUKA), 151 sq km in Masaka, Rakai

Other Prominent Birding Sites

For birders, in particular, it is easy to view Uganda, with its lush natural vegetation and dense tropical cultivation, as nothing less than one giant nature sanctuary.

There are extensive forests on Buggala and other islands in Lake Victoria’s Ssese archipelago. In contrast, the small relic forest protected in the Entebbe Botanical Garden offers an excellent introduction to Uganda’s forest birds. It is an ideal place to get a close look at black-and-white colobus monkeys.

Even a leisurely walk around Entebbe offers the opportunity to see such colorful species as Ross’s turaco, woodland kingfisher, white-throated bee-eater, and a variety of robin-chats and weavers.

Other Conservation Areas in Uganda

Several other conservation areas in Uganda are also of interest for their natural history. These include

  • Lake Nkuruba, near Kibale Forest
  • Amabere Caves in Fort Portal near Kibale National Park
  • Bigodi Wetland near Kibale Forest National Park
  • Lake Bunyonyi in Kigezi en route to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
  • Echuya Forest in Kigezi,
  • Sipi Falls near Mbale, Mount Elgon National Park