Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest park at just 33sq km and it is located in the far south western part of Uganda bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However this park is one of the most dramatic park, it covers the northern slopes of the three among the six Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), and Mt. Sabiny (3,645 m). Despite being small in size, Mgahinga national park is of great importance given that it is a home to the endangered mountain Gorillas. This park together with other two parks in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo: i.e. Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively form the 434-sq. km ‘Virunga Conservation Area’. Since Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, it is just 8% of the Virunga Conservation Area and the whole park is found in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District. The park’s vegetation is partly forested and the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes that dominate the landscape contribute to the great scenic view of the area.
Though mountain gorillas form the major attraction to the park, the park also harbors other wildlife which includes 76 mammalian species such as golden monkeys a localized and distinctive race of the Blue Monkeys, Black and White colobus monkey, leopard, forest elephant, and giant forest hogs as well as a number of bird species. The park is also the most scenic park in Uganda, it offers panoramic views that stretch northwards to Bwindi and a southern skyline dominated by the steep volcanic cones of the Virungas, surely one of the most memorable and stirring sights in East Africa.
The park is surrounded by different local communities like the Pygmy Batwa African tribe which tribe in the past lived by hunting and gathering fruits from Bwindi Impenetrable forest. These people were relocated after the park was established to protect the Mountain Gorillas. They now entertain visitors and also sell their handmade crafts as souvenirs.
Gorilla tracking is the major tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. There is one habituated gorilla family in the park and it consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. Tracking from this park is easier given that this habituated family is no longer quite mobile since it has established its base at Nyakagezi
Hiking is another adventurous activity that is carried out within this park. Volcano climbing is quite an interesting and challenging activity. From Mgahinga national park tourists have a chance to transcend to Mt. Sabinyo (3645m above sea level), Mt Gahinga (3474 km) and Mt. Muhavura (4127 m). Seeing the ‘Old man’s teeth’ on the top of Mt Sabinyo is another awesome adventure. Like an old man, the crown of Mt. Sabyinyo’s has been eroded.
Another interesting feature of the park is the Garama cave. This is one of the historical caves where once the crafty Batwa lived and fought their neighbors. These pygmy related Africans lived a warrior lifestyle and they used to fight with the neighboring Bantu tribes. The Garama cave which measures 342m in length and 14m deep is now inhabited by only bats. A trip to visit the Batwa local communities can also be arranged for tourists interested in learning and experiencing the lifestyles, traditions and norms of these pygmy forgotten Africans.
The Park has got a number of unique bird species. The park recorded about 79 bird species so far some of which are endemic to the East Congo Montane region. Common bird species in the park include Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mouse birds, and Fire Finch Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul. Virunga Conservation Area as a whole, has over 295 species in the Virungas which are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afromontane region representing 59% of the total known endemic species.
For interested bird watchers, the local birding guides are available to guide you through the birding tour. You are also reminded to travel with all your birding equipments.
TIPS ON GORILLA TRACKING BY UGANDA WILDLIFE AUTHORITY
You should keep your voice down or be quiet while tracking. You will see and hear the gorillas if you observe that.
Don’t get closer than 7 metres (21 feet) to the gorillas
Don’t point or waive your arms to the gorillas- they see this as a threat.
You should move slowly.If approached by a gorilla, back away slowly to keep 5m separation.
Don’t use flash while taking photos. This could threaten the gorillas and bother other visitors.