The Rwenzori Mountains National Park covers nearly 100,000 ha in western Uganda and comprises the main part of the Rwenzori mountain chain, which includes Africa's third highest peak (Mount Margherita: 5,109 m). The region's glaciers, waterfalls and lakes make it one of Africa's most beautiful alpine areas. The park has many natural habitats of endangered species and a rich and unusual flora comprising, among other species, the giant heather.
© Kim S. Gjerstad
Outstanding Universal Value
The Rwenzori Mountains National Park provides stunning views of glacier and snow-capped mountains just kilometres from the equator, where it is contiguous with the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Having the third highest mountain in Africa at 5,109 m (after Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya), the Park includes a much larger alpine area than either, covering an area of 99,600 ha of which 70% lies at over 2,500 m in height. The Rwenzori Mountains are the highest and most permanent sources of the River Nile, and constitute a vital water catchment. Their multitude of fast flowing rivers, magnificent waterfalls and stratified vegetation make the property exceptionally scenic and beautiful. The mountains are well-known for their unique alpine flora which includes many species endemic to the Albertine Rift in the higher altitude zones including giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias. The Park also supplies local communities with various wild resources and is an important cultural heritage.
Criterion (vii): The Rwenzoris are the legendary “Mountains of the moon”, a reflection of the mist-shrouded mountains of this rugged massif that tower almost 4,000 m above the Albertine Rift Valley, making them visible from great distances. These mountains offer a unique and pristine landscape of alpine vegetation studded with charismatic giant lobelias, groundsels, and heathers which have been called “Africa’s botanical big game”. The combination of spectacular snow-capped peaks, glaciers, V-shaped valleys, fast flowing rivers with magnificent waterfalls, clear blue lakes and unique flora contributes to the area’s exceptional natural beauty.
Criterion (x):Because of their altitudinal range, and the nearly constant temperatures, humidity and high insolation, the mountains support the richest montane flora in Africa. There is an outstanding range of species, many of which are endemic to the Albertine Rift and bizarre in appearance. The natural vegetation has been classified as belonging to five distinct zones, determined largely by altitude and aspect. The higher altitude zones, covered by heath and Afro-alpine moorland, extend from around 3,500 m to the snow line and represent the rarest vegetation types on the African continent. Significant species include the giant heathers, groundsels, lobelias and other endemics. In terms of fauna, the Rwenzoris have been recognised as an Important Bird Area with 217 bird species recorded to date, a number expected to increase as the park becomes better surveyed. The montane forests are also a home to threatened species such as the African forest elephant, eastern chimpanzee and l’Hoest’s monkey. The endangered Rwenzori black-fronted or red duiker, believed to be a very localized subspecies or possibly a separate species, appears to be restricted to the Park.
Challenges facing the Park include community uses of the park (such as collection of bamboo), tourism development, population growth and agricultural practices. While little agricultural encroachment has occurred due to the Park’s clearly marked boundary, insecurity caused by rebel insurgence in recent years has affected park management and encouraged illegal activities, the reason for which the property was inscribed in the List of World Heritage in Danger from 1999-2004. The growing number of people living around the property is adding pressure on forest resources, although the cultural importance that the local communities attach to the Park as well as the various benefits they derive from ecotourism and regulated plant resource use is designed to manage this. The watershed functions as a result of the intactness of the boundary has enhanced the Park’s capacity to act as the biggest contributor of water in the region for domestic and industrial use. The integrity of the property is further enhanced by its contiguity with the Virunga National Parkin the DRC which provides an opportunity for gene flow and buffer properties.
Protection and management requirements
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA, UWA succeed Uganda National Parks (UNP) which was the management authority at the time of Inscription of the site as a World Heritage Site) in accordance with the provisions of the National laws( The constitution (1995), Uganda Wildlife Act (2000), National Environment Management Act (2000), Forest and Tree planting Act (2003), Local Government Act (1987), The Land Act (1989) 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).It was gazetted in 1991 under statutory instrument number 3 in 1992 and the National Park’s Act 1952. The park is considered a model for integration of cultural values into the Protected Area Management framework as an innovative approach to resource management, the first of its kind in Africa. As a result the local communities have embraced collaborative resource management initiatives. Given its significance as one of the biodiversity hotspots in the Albertine Rift, various local and international NGOs have supported the management and conservation of the property. A General Management Plan guides management operations on-site. Key challenges to address include illegal felling of trees, snow recession due to global warming, human population pressure adjacent to the property and management of waste generated through tourism operations. UWA is addressing the above threats through resource protection, community conservation education, research and ranger-based monitoring, ecotourism and transboundary initiatives with the DRC. The long-term maintenance of the integrity of the property will be achieved through sustainable financing, ecological monitoring, continued collaboration with key stakeholders andregional cooperation.
Covering an area of 99,600 ha, 70% of which exceeds an altitude of 2,500 m, the Rwenzori mountains comprise an extremely steep and rugged mountain range which includes three mountains: Albert, Alexandra and Africa's third highest peak, Margherita (5,109 m). The highest reaches of the mountains are covered by snow fields and glaciers which provide a permanent source of water for the surrounding areas. In the east, the park is contiguous with the Part National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The mountains consist of ancient rocks which were extruded from the surrounding plains during the formation of the western rift valley. These Precambrian rocks have produced soils of low fertility, except on parts of the northern ridge where volcanic ash from the Fort Portal plateau was deposited.
The Rwenzori are well known for their unusual flora, which includes many species endemic to the Albertine Rift in the higher-altitude zones. Most significant are the giant heathers, ground-sells, ericas and lobelias of the tree heath and alpine zones. Vegetation depends largely on altitude, with five major zones being distinguishable: a broken montane forest zone occurs below 2,400m; a bamboo forest zone occurs (in pure stands in many places) up to an altitude of 3,000 m; a tree heath vegetation zone of giant heathers, frequently over 10m in height, extends up to 3,800m at the same altitude, although on better soils, a tangled undergrowth punctuated by a mixture of small trees predominates; and an Afro-alpine moorland zone upwards to 4,400m.
The park contains 89 species of bird, 4 species of diurnal primate, and 15 species of butterfly. Although none of these are unique to the Rwenzori, many are endemic to the Albertine Rift region, and a high level of subspecific endemism occurs, including the Rwenzori colobus monkey, hyrax and leopard. A recent study of invertebrate life forms listed 60 species in the alpine zone, 25 of which were new to science. This is indicative of a much more extensive fauna waiting to be discovered. Although low in number, the following globally threatened animals still occur in the Rwenzori: elephant, common chimpanzee and I'Hoests monkey.
The Rwenzori Mountains are the homelands of the Bakonjo and Baamba peoples. The Bakonjo are a Bantu-speaking people who have lived on the mountain for many generations, and whose culture is adapted to the steep slopes and climate of Rwenzori.
In 1910, the colonially imposed political boundary between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda divided the Bakonjo, Baamba and the related Banande people of the Congolese sector, who have never fitted comfortably into this artificial division. The Rwenzori area is home to some 300,000 Bakonjo people. No people currently live within the park, although cultivation is evident in many places up to its border. Traditional uses of forest resources were permitted under the former Forest Reserve designation, including the extraction of building materials, fibres, firewood and medicinal plants. These activities have mainly been carried out on a sustainable basis, and new agreements have been made respecting these harvesting rights. Illegal hunting of small game no longer continues, possibly due to a decline in animal populations. In the 1960s coffee, mountaineering and the Kalimbe mine brought prosperity and improved health services and infrastructure to the region. However, apart from agriculture, the park is the main source of income for the local communities. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
All terrain above 2,200m (7,OOOft) was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1941 (Forest Act, 1947 ammended 19641, although from the outset there were calls for it to be gazetted as a national park. This occurred in 1991 (Statutory Instrument No.3, 1992, National Parks Act, 1952) along with the creation of two other mountain national parks in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation