Located in south-western Uganda, at the junction of the plain and mountain forests, Bwindi Park covers 32,000 ha and is known for its exceptional biodiversity, with more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns. Many types of birds and butterflies can also be found there, as well as many endangered species, including the mountain gorilla.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Outstanding Universal Value
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, covering 32,092 ha, is one of the largest areas in East Africa which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt. Located on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and believed to be a Pleistocene refugium, the property is a biodiversity hotspot with possibly the greatest number of tree species for its altitude in East Africa. It is also host to a rich fauna including a number of endemic butterflies and one of the richest mammalian assemblages in Africa. Home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from the mountain gorilla and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.
Criterion (vii): As a key site for biodiversity on the continent, the species richness occurring in this site, recognised also under criteria (x) below, can be considered as a superlative natural phenomenon.
Criterion (x): Due to its diverse habitats ranging from 1,160 to 2,706 m in altitude, location at the intersection of the Albertine, Congo Basin and Eastern Africa ecological zones, and probable role as a Pleistocene refugium, Bwindi is the most important area in Uganda for species due to an exceptional diversity that includes many Albertine Rift endemics. This forest is believed to be a mere remnant of a very large forest which once covered much of western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The property has the highest diversity of tree species (over 200 species including 10 endemics) and ferns (some 104 species) in East Africa, and maybe the most important forest in Africa for montane forest butterflies with 202 species (84% of the country’s total), including eight Albertine endemics. The forest is very significant as a home to almost half of the population (about 340) of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. With over 347 species of forest birds recorded in the Park,at least 70 out of 78 montane forest bird species occurring in the Albertine Rift region are found in the forest, and 22 of the 36 endemics. Overall, Bwindi hosts numerous globally threatened species including high-profile mammals such as mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, l’Hoest’s monkey and African elephant; birds such as African green broadbill, Grauer’s swamp warbler, Turner’s Eremomela, Chapin’s flycatcher and Shelley’s crimson-wing; and butterflies such as African giant swallowtail and Cream-banded swallowtail.
The property is an oasis of forest situated inside one of the most densely populated rural areas in the country with more than 350 people per square km. This means that there is no possibility for a buffer zone at the forest edge apart from a buffer of 4 km2 which was donated by communities at the southern end of the Park to safeguard the site. It is recognized that the site is reduced in size and does not have an ideal boundary configuration, as the boundary area ratio is high and the area of park/people contact requires intensive management. There are several narrow corridors between sectors that will create difficulties for movement of wildlife. Due to human disturbance and clearing of vegetation there is little that can be done to expand the area around these constrictions.
The Park boundary is clearly delineated with planted trees and concrete pillars as markers along areas where rivers do not form the boundary. This clear boundary line has mostly stopped encroachment by the local communities, although with increasing population, agricultural encroachment will remain a potential threat. However, community participation programmes have enabled the neighbouring communities to derive various benefits from ecotourism and regulated plant resource use which significantly contributes to improving their livelihoods. There are no commercial activities inside the property other than ecotourism. Bwindi shares a common border with the small (c. 900 ha) protected Sarambwe forest in DRC, into which the gorillas and other species enter at times. This provides an opportunity for population dispersal and gene flow, and an avenue for international collaboration in conserving the region’s endemic and endangered flora and fauna.
Protection and management requirements
Managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA, UWA replaced Uganda National Parks (UNP) that was the management authority of the property at the time of designation), Bwindi is protected under the provisions of various national laws (The Constitution (1995), Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000, National Environment Act (2000), Local Government Act (1997), The Land Act (1998), the Forest and Tree Planting Act 2003 and the Uganda Wildlife Policy (1999). All these laws mentioned above were not in place by the time the property was inscribed as a World Heritage Site. However, the Uganda National Parks Act (1952), and the Game Act were already in place to support its creation) and international conventions (Convention of Biological Diversity 1992 (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Ramsar convention 1971 and the World Heritage Convention 1972). The site has an approved management plan and is highly respected and supported by local communities as a conservation site. The property attracts substantial support from a number of local and international NGOs. The Park has a permanent research institute located within the site which is engaged in research and continued monitoring of the site’s integrity. These factors as well as strong political support provide an assurance for the property’s long-term protection and conservation. The management of the site has developed ecotourism programmes that support community livelihoods, a major reason for community support. The Park is a model for integration of community sustainable resource management in the country and possibly in the East African Region. However, there are still strong long-term needs for greater primate protection given the new tendency of trafficking mountain gorilla babies and chimpanzees. As the mountain gorilla is so closely related to people, it is also threatened by transmission of human diseases as a result of tourism activities. UWA is closely monitoring these threats and working with stakeholders and NGOs to mitigate these threats. Continued enhancement of conservation is required in law enforcement and monitoring.
Bwindi, in the Kigezi Highlands of south-west Uganda, adjacent to the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is characterized by steep hills and narrow valleys with a general incline from the north and west to the south-western corner. The park constitutes an important water catchment area serving the surrounding densely populated agricultural land and is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane vegetation communities meet. Three major tributaries of the lshasha River drain into Lake Edward to the north, and the Ndego, Kanyamwabo and Shongi rivers flow southwards towards Lake Mutanda.
In geological terms, the area is associated with upwarping of the western rift valley and its underlying rocks are phyllites and shales, with some quartz, quartzite and granite outcrops. The soils are mainly humic red loams. Due to the steepness of the slopes, the soils are very susceptible to erosion in areas where trees are cleared. Combined with its probable role as a Pleistocene refuge, the forest hosts an extremely high biodiversity.
Bwindi is the most diverse forest in East Africa for tree species (more than 163) and ferns (more than 104), as well as other taxa. A further 16 species have only a very restricted distribution in south-west Uganda, and one species, Lovoa swynnertonii , is globally threatened. The forest gets the name 'impenetrable' from the dense cover of herbs, vines and shrubs inhabiting the valley floor. Bwindi has one of the richest fauna communities in East Africa, including over 214 species of forest bird, 7 species of diurnal primate, 120 species of mammals and 202 species of butterfly. Highly significant is the presence of almost half of the world's population of mountain gorillas. Bwindi is also an important locality for the conservation of Afromontane fauna, in particular those endemic to the mountains of the western rift valley. Overall, Bwindi contains nine globally threatened species: mountain gorilla, common chimpanzee, l'Hoest's monkey Cercopithecus l'hoesti , endangered species of African elephant, African green broadbill, Grauer's rush warbler, Chaplin's flycatcher, African giant swallowtail and cream-banded swallowtail. Buffalo were poached to extinction in the late 1960s, as were leopard more recently.
No archaeological sites are known inside the park, although the wider Kigeti region may have been occupied from as early as 37,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of forest clearance dates back 4,800 years, most likely due to the presence of the Batwa (hunter-gatherer) people manipulating vegetation with fire. This is the earliest evidence for cultivation anywhere in tropical Africa.
Bwindi lies in one of the country's most densely populated rural areas in different locations around the forest. Approximately 10,000 families belonging to the Bachiga, Bafumbira and Barwanda (all Bantu) peoples cultivate the land immediately surrounding the park. Commercial logging has never taken place in Bwindi due to the rugged terrain. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
In 1932, what are now the northern and southern sectors of the forest were gazetted as Kasatora and Kayonza Crown Forest Reserves respectively, covering a total area of 20,700ha. Later, in 1948, the two reserves were combined and extended into the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest Reserve covering 29,800ha (Forest Act, 1947, amended 1964). Two local forest reserves were then incorporated into the central reserve in 1961, increasing the gazetted area to 32,080ha. In the same year, the entire reserve was gazetted an animal sanctuary (Game Preservation and Control Act, 1959, amended 1964) in an effort to grant additional protection for the mountain gorillas. Bwindi was finally upgraded to a national park in 1991 (Statutory Instrument No.3, 1992, National Parks Act, 19521, along with the creation of two other mountain national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori Mountains and Mgahinga Gorilla. This final change was accompanied by incorporation of the 1,OOOha Mbwa tract. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation