Semliki National Park


Ugandan kobs wander the Rift Valley Escarpment in Semliki Wildlife Reserve Uganda by Ariadne Van Zandbergen Africa Image Library

Uganda’s best destination for bird-lovers, this unspoilt tropical forest is also home to over 300 species of butterfly.

Gazetted in 1993, Semliki National Park – previously known as Bwamba Forest, a name that often crops up in old ornithological literature – protects a practically unspoilt 220km² tract of rainforest bounded to the northwest by the Semliki River as it runs along the Congolese border into Lake Albert, and to the southeast by the surfaced main road connecting Fort Portal to Bundibugyo. The tropical lowland forest of Semliki, set at an average altitude of 700m, forms an ecological continuum with the Ituri Forest, which extends eastward for more than 500km to the Congo River, and it supports a wealth of wildlife unknown from elsewhere in East Africa, including more than 35 bird species. Despite this, the park is seldom visited, even by ornithological tours. To some extent, this is because access north of the main Bundibugyo Road is limited to a few little-used hiking trails through the sweltering rainforest. But it doesn’t help that the one attraction readily accessible to casual visitors, a short walking trail to the Sempaya Hot Springs, attracts a combination of park entrance and guide fees that feels disproportionately high for what it is.

Considering its small size, Semliki National Park protects an extraordinary faunal diversity. It is of particular interest to birdwatchers: 435 bird species have been recorded, including a high proportion of forest birds and roughly 45 species that occur nowhere else in Uganda. For amateur ornithologists, Semliki is not only certain to throw up a clutch of ‘lifers’ – it also offers a faint but real possibility of a brand-new East African record. Three of the seven ‘recent records’ depicted in Stevenson and Fanshawe’s 2002 East African field guide were discovered in Semliki during the 1990s, namely Congo serpent-eagle, grey-throated rail and black-throated coucal.

The entrance fee is US$35/25 for FNR/FR per 24 hours. All formal activities in the park, including birding walks and the hike to Sempaya Hot Springs, attract a guide fee of US$30 per person, over and above the entrance fee.

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