Budongo Forest – Murchison Falls Park
Things to do and see in the Budongo Forest
The Budongo Forest Reserve is a large 825km² tract of which 430km² is continuous virgin tropical forest on the southern fringes of Murchison Falls National Park. The Forest is 3½ – 4 hours northwest of Uganda’s capital city Kampala – just beyond the town of Masindi on the way to Murchison Falls National Park. A visit to the Forest is best combined with a Murchison Falls Park Wildlife and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Rhino Tracking Safari of three or four days.
The tropical Forest is composed mainly of moist, medium-altitude, semi-deciduous forest, with patches of savanna and woodland. It covers a gently rolling landscape, sloping down to the East African Rift. Four streams, Waisoke, Sonso, Kamirambwa and Siba, drain the forest and flow into Lake Albert.
Recorded from Budongo are more than 360 bird species, some 290 butterflies, 130 moths, 465 trees, and 24 mammals, of which 9 are primates.
During the 1970s and 1980s civil war raged in the country, with an accompanying breakdown of law and order. Chimpanzee mothers were shot and the infants taken from the forest and smuggled to collectors in Asia, Europe and America. Researchers however returned to Uganda in 1990 to determine whether a viable population of chimpanzees still existed in Budongo. By 1995 some fifty individuals had been identified, and this figure remained constant until 2000 when the numbers started rising, thought to be due to an influx of chimpanzees from other areas and the and a lot of effort from the Budongo Conservation Field Station (Formerly know as The Budongo Forest Project).
Most visitors come to this place for primarily chimpanzees trekking and or bird watching, but the huge mahogany trees are also worth a look – besides, there is more to do and see here, especially if you enjoy hiking. It’s a great add-on to your Murchison Falls National Park visit, with your park permit allowing you entry to Budongo too.
There is one lodge – the Budongo Eco Lodge inside this Forest reserve and we organize all activities through them making it easy to go on a Chimpanzee Trek first thing in the morning.
Things To Do and See in Budongo Forest
While Kibale Park is usually considered the best place for chimp tracking in Uganda, visitors can still have a far superior experience in Budongo Forest. Chimpanzee tracking is popular activity here with trips taking place daily. Kaniyo Pabidi is where Chimp tracking and all the other activities are done. They have 2 trekking program – morning at 8am and afternoon which starts at 2pm – and for those visiting Murchison Falls National Park this can be done on the way to or from Murchison Falls National Park adding another activity to your safari there. The ideal plan would be to stay overnight and also do a forest walk while at Budongo Forest –
You have a good chance of finding the chimps, though it’s not guaranteed. The walking is easy as the terrain is level. Walks last from two to four hours.
It was amazing to see the great work that is being done to protect chimpanzees. Once you find the chimps, you get to spend 1 hour with them. Unlike gorillas, Chimps are generally very active animals and photographs may not explain what you see as it happens quickly and in mixed vegetation. Chimps naturally spend equal time on ground and in trees. When they go high up in the trees, you might need binoculars and telephoto lenses to see them.
The guides are very professional, passionate and knowledgeable – give you a lot of information about other species found here: from the history of the entire place, the snare patrolling with ex-hunters converted into conservationists to tracking monkeys and chimps with our extremely acknowledgeable guides who will tell you all about the birds and trees as well along the way, it is definitely an experience not to miss.
Pre-booking through your tour operator is necessary. Trekkers must be over 15 years old.
There is approximately 600 to 700 chimps in this forest living in 6 communities of 80-120 members. Chimps however remain in much smaller groups most of the time, for among other things, competition for food especially in during the dry spell.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX)
Budongo Forest Chimps are among a few long-term chimpanzee research sites in Africa. Chimpanzee Habituation Experience here is an all-day activity where you go out with the researchers and observe the chimps all day. It can be done here during off-season months Low season – 1st March – 15th June and 1st October – 15th December.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience is in a similar fashion with chimp trekking EXCEPT it’s limited to a smaller group of 2-4 participants plus of course researchers and/or rangers, starts at the crack of dawn and runs for all day. Chimp Habituation is a 2-year process of getting the chimpanzees oriented to human presence while in their natural habitat – your visit is an essential part of the process. With the standard chimp trekking, the chimps you visit have already gone through the habituation process.
If you are very keen wildlife enthusiasts Chex might be something for you. The 1 hour is a bit too less for chimpanzees since they move around a lot more than gorillas and more active; also chances of them being high up in trees are higher. – from a photography point of view its really necessary to have more time with the group.
Guided Birding Walks in the Forest
Budongo Forest is one of the top birding sites in Uganda. Again, the forest is very dense so views can be obstructed times you are looking almost vertically upwards with binoculars for long periods. Bird lovers will find Budongo literally a paradise with its 360 plus species of birds. Bird watching walks are full or half day in length led by knowledgeable guides.
Those here for birdwatching usually seek Puvel’s illadopsis, which isn’t known anywhere else in East Africa. Other highly sought species are the rufous-sided broadbill and white-naped pigeon. Other species include Parmoptila woodhouse, Sabine’s spine tail, Cassins spine tail(rare), Pygmy crakes, African Kingfishers (Chocolate backed, blue breasted, dwarf), White spotted fluff Tail, Ituri Batis, Pulvus Illadopsis, Brown twin Spot, Cameroon Somber, Cassins hawk Eagle, Crowned Eagle, yellow-footed flycatcher, Yellow crested Woodpecker, Forest Robin, Little green Sunbird, Grey headed Sunbird, Brown twinspot among others.
Budongo forest is one of the largest remaining hardwood forests in the world. Stepping inside is like walking back in time. These worthwhile forest walks pass through East Africa’s last remaining mahogany forest. The largest specimens are 60m tall and 300 years old. Black-and-white Colombus screech, chimps yell, butterflies flutter their wings and moss grows like a velvet rug on the massive trunks of trees – duiker are also commonly seen. So much more to experience than just chimps!
The only problem is the devastation caused by the monstrous oil highway ripping through the forest. Chimpanzee calls echo through the forest – but is increasingly grated by the noise of the dirty trucks running on the highway – even at night! What a tragedy! This Forest is one of wild areas in Uganda are increasingly under threat and this selfish actions.
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