MGNP is situated in the corner of south-western Uganda in Kisoro District, 10 km south of Kisoro town, bordered by the Republic of Rwanda to the south and the DRC to the west. It covers an area of 33.7 km2 and lies at latitude 1o 23' South and longitude 29o 39' East. MGNP is contiguous with Parc National des Virunga (240 km2) in the DRC, and Parc National des Volcans (160 km2) in Rwanda, all forming the proposed transboundary PA known as the Virunga Conservation Area covering an area of 434 km2. The park includes three of the Virunga volcanoes - Mt Muhabura (4,127 m), Mt Gahinga (3,474 m) from which the park derives its name, and Mt Sabyinyo (3,645 m). It lies in Bufumbira county, Nyarusiza and Muramba sub-counties and adjacent to the three parishes of Gisozi, Rukongi and Gitenderi.
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Geology and landscape: MGNP has three volcanoes, which are part of the Virunga volcanic range in East Central Africa, expanding to the Albertine Rift on the Rwanda, DRC and Uganda border, north and north east of Lake Kivu. The three volcanoes in MGNP are thought to have arisen in the early to mid-Pleistocene era, and to have formed through a deposition of layers of ash and cinders from successive lava flows (Kingston, 1967). Sabyinyo is believed to be the oldest volcano, followed by Gahinga, which is younger, and with a swamp crater of about 180m diameter at the summit. Muhabura is believed to be the youngest volcano. It is cone-shaped with a small crater lake approximately 36m in diameter at its summit. There are numerous caves on the slopes of the mountains, caused by lava tubes.
MGNP is an important water catchment area. Due to its protective cover of vegetation, MGNP's role in water catchment is superior to the surrounding terrain. Apart from the numerous streams flowing northwards from the mountains, there is a crater lake on Mt Muhabura and a swamp crater on Mt Gahinga summit. There are also swamps in the saddles between the three volcanoes that retain water all year round, while the plains at the foot of the volcanoes are characterised by deep volcanic ash, and run-off from the mountains rapidly disappears underground. The main source of the north-flowing surface water is the Kabiranyuma swamp in the Muhabura - Gahinga saddle. River Kabiranyuma drains the swamp and is an important source of water for the populations around. It is the only river that does not dry up completely in the driest months of June to August. River Ntebeko drains the Rugezi Swamp in the Gahinga - Sabyinyo saddle northwards to the DRC, while Nyabirerema stream drains Mt. Sabyinyo northwards to DRC.
Fauna: In MGNP, 39 mammal species have been recorded, but it is believed that up to 89 do occur (Baranga 1990). The larger mammals include the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and elephant (Loxondata africana). There is also the rare golden monkey (Cercophithecus mitis kandti) known only to occur in the Virungas and two other forests in Central Africa and the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis sp.). Other mammals include the golden cat (Felis (Profelis) aurata), serval cat (Felis (Leptculurus) serval), leopard (Panthera pardus), spotted hyena (Crucuta crocuta), side-striped jackal (Canisadustus), black-fronted duiker (Caphalophus nigrifrons), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and giant forest hog (Hylocheorus meinertzhageni).
79 bird species have been recorded in MGNP, including several endemic to the East Congo Montane region. A total of 185 bird species have been recorded in Parc National des Volcans, and most are likely to occur in MGNP.
Flora: MGNP harbour afromontane forests, covering the smallest area as a vegetation type on the continent. The vegetation in MGNP consists of woodland, and only a small area of pure montane forest still remains at the base of Mt Muhabura following encroachment in the 1950s. Above the montane forest belt is the bamboo (Arundinaria alpina) zone that stretches from the western boundary on Sabyinyo to the lower slopes of Muhabura. The Hagenia-Hypericum zone appears above the bamboo zone on Mt. Sabyinyo and below it on Gahinga. The Afro-Alpine Belt, characterised by giant Senecio and Lobelia species, occurs above the Ericacious Belt and reaches its maximum development on Mt. Muhabura.
Comparison with other similar properties
Bwindi Impenetrable National park (BINP): This is a World Heritage site in Uganda nominated in 1994. Bwindi Impenetrable (BINP) and Mgahinga Gorilla (MGNP) National Parks are both located in the extreme south west of Uganda, covering 321 km2 and 33.7 km2 respectively. The most significant values for the two parks are the afromontane forest, water catchment and habitat to the endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei). Because of the proximity of the two parks to each other and similarity in conditions and management challenges, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which is Government body responsible for the management of National Parks, has placed them under one management unit referred to as Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA).