RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, UGANDA
Brief description: The Rwenzori Mountains in southwestern
Uganda are a high well watered massif rising above dry plains. The park
is nearly 100,000 hectares in area, and covers most of the centre and eastern
half of the range. It includes Africa's third, fourth and fifth highest
peaks in an alpine highland of glaciers, snowfields and lakes which make
it one of Africa's most beautiful mountain parks. It protects five distinct
vegetation zones, several endangered species and a very unusual cloud forest
flora, which includes giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias, characterised
as 'Africa's botanic big game'.
Threats to the Site: Rebels occupied the mountains from
1997 to July 2001 when the lack of security prevented any conservation.
After its inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the World
Heritage Committee called on the World Heritage Centre and the World Conservation
Union (IUCN), to co-operate with the Ugandan body responsible for wildlife
preservation. They were to consult with conservation NGOs and other international
organisations present in the region to make all those involved in the conflict
aware of the need to respect the site's world heritage values and to develop
projects to support its management
NAME Rwenzori Mountains National Park
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
II National Park
Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1994. Natural
Criteria iii, iv.
Placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999 because of occupation
and destruction by rebel militias
BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE East African Woodland/Savanna
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION In southwest Uganda on
the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) and Virunga
National Park. It lies on the east side of the western rift valley between
0°06' - 0°46'N and 29°47'- 30°11'E.
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
terrain above 2,200m (7,000ft) was gazetted as a Forest Reserve, although
there were calls for it to be gazetted as a national park; the Forest
Reserve boundaries were marked;
Act confirmed the designation (amended in 1964);
as a National Park with Bwindi Impenetrable & Mgahinga Gorilla
National Parks by Statutory Instrument No.3,1992, under the National
Parks Act of 1952;
AREA 99,600ha: borders the Parc National des
Virunga in the D.R.C.for 50km which is also a World Heritage site, the
northern extension of which includes a fifth of the Rwenzori mountains.
LAND TENURE Government owned through the Uganda
National Parks, in the Districts of Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibogyo. Protected,
but extraction may be sanctioned by the Board of Trustees.
ALTITUDE Between 1,700m and 5,119m. Area below
2,000m: 2,800ha; from 2,000m to 2,250m: 11,000ha; from 2,250m to 2,500m:
16,000ha; above 2,500m: 69,800ha (70% of the total area).
PHYSICAL FEATURES The Rwenzori mountains are
an extremely steep and rugged mountain range approximately 50 kilometers
wide and 120 kilometers long, running south-southwest to north-northeast
just north of the equator. There are twenty five peaks above 4,500m high.
Their high point is Africa's third highest peak, Pic Margherita (5,109m),
one of the two peaks of Mount Ngaliema (Mount Stanley). The mountains
are a horst of Precambrian basement metamorphosed granites thrust above
the surrounding plains during the formation of the western (Albertine)
rift valley (Howard,1991). The range is tilted steeply to the west, with
gentler eastern slopes in Uganda which includes about two thirds of the
range. The peaks are the largest glaciated area in Africa. Heavy glaciation
has sculpted cirques and left many moraines, lakelets and bogs on the
Stanley ice plateau. Above this rise the three highest peaks, Mounts Ngaliema,
Speke and Baker (the third, fourth and fifth highest peaks in Africa)
which are permanently covered by snowfields and small retreating glaciers;
the lower Mounts Emin, Gessi and Luigi di Savoia also retain more or less
permanent snowfields (Yeoman,1989).
Although not as high as Mount Kilimanjaro, and slightly lower than Mount
Kenya, the Rwenzori mountains have a larger alpine area than either (Butynski,
1992). The rocks and leaching produce acidic soils of low fertility, except
on parts of the northern ridge where volcanic ash from the Fort Portal
plateau was deposited (Loefler 1997). The Rwenzori are a vital water catchment
area. The upland bogs act as a huge sponge which absorbs and regulates
the rainfall. They are the highest and most permanent source of the river
Nile, feeding it via eleven rivers and Lake Rutanzige (L.Edward) and Lake
George in Uganda. They supply 500,000 Ugandans who depend on the mountain
forests for their water and protection from flooding as well as for irrigation,
hydro-electric power and inflow to the fisheries of lakes Rutanzige and
George (Howard, 1991).
CLIMATE The mountains trap the humid air of
the Congo basin and are very wet, rain falling on most days even in the
dryer months. Above 2500m clouds can persist for several days. Annual
precipitation above the foothills averages 2500mm, peaking twice, in March-May
and August-December, influenced by the prevailing north-easterly winds
and south-easterly monsoon; monthly rainfall can reach 375mm. Conditions
are related to altitude. Snowfall is greater than on Mounts Kenya and
Kilimanjaro and ice rime forms in freezing mists on the mountains. At
high elevations the diurnal temperature range is moderate, swinging daily
from above to below freezing, alternating between 'winter' at night and
'summer' by day (Yeoman,1985; Howard,1991; Lush,1993).
VEGETATION The Rwenzori are an alpine island
surrounded by dry plains. They are known for an unusual luxuriant acid
soil adapted flora at higher altitudes which includes many species endemic
to the western rift valley. This occurs because of the high precipitation,
cloud cover and humidity combined with high levels of ultraviolet insolation
and the low diurnal temperature variation. There is marked vegetation
zoning with changes in altitude.
There are five zones: montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heath-bog,
Hagenia-Rapanea scrub and afro-alpine moorland. Below 2,400m, the
vegetation is mixed broad-leaf forest of Symphonia globulifera, Prunus
africana, Albizia and Podocarpus spp. with few large trees
and a broken canopy except in valley-bottoms and flat ridge crests. Above
this is the bamboo forest zone dominated by Arundinaria alpina,
which often occurs in pure stands up to 3,000m, along with an impenetrable
belt of Mimulopsis elliotii. Beyond this to 3,800m there is a carex
peat-bog with cloud woodland. Poorer soils carry a dense vegetation of
tree heathers, giant senecios Senecio erici-rosenii and S.adnivalis
and the giant lobelias Lobelia bequaertii and L.wollastonii,
floored with ferns, mosses and lycopodiums and festooned with bryophytes.
The tree heathers include Phillippia trimera, P. kingaensis, P.
phillippia and P. johnstonii, some up to 20m high and most
are draped with usnea lichen. Better soils at this elevation carry a low
Hagenia abyssinica-Rapanea rhododendroides woodland, over a scrub
of Hypericum lanceolatum and H keniense. Above this zone,
Afro-alpine moorland extends to the snow line at 4,400m dominated by Helichchrysum
stuhlmanii, H.guilelmii, Alchemilla subnivalis and A.stuhlmanii
(Yeoman, 1989; Howard,1991).
Of the 278 woody plant taxa found in the afro-alpine zone, 81% are endemic
to east Africa and 19% are found only in the afro-alpine belt (Herberg,1961;
Lush,1993). Most astonishing are the giant groundsels, ericas and lobelias
of the ecologically fragile tree heath and alpine zones (Butynski, 1992).
As most botanising has been on the high altitude flora, only 75 tree species
(18% of the country's total) have so far been recorded in the montane
forest zone and it is expected that many more will be found there. Two
trees are endemic to the Rwenzori: Hypericum bequaertii and
Schefflera polysciadia, and seven others occur only here and in the
other montane forest zones of south-west Uganda. These are Erica kingaensis,
Phillippia johnstonii, Vernonia sp.aff.adolfi-friderici, Ficalhoa
laurifolia and Ocotea usambarensis (V) (Howard, 1991).
FAUNA Although its former forest cover has been
fragmented, the region still has the richest montane fauna on the continent.
Knowledge is greatest for higher altitude species. The mountains contain
70 species of mammals (Wilson,1995) including 6 species of diurnal primate
and 12 regionally endemic small mammals. Although none of these species
is unique to the Rwenzori, many are endemic to the Albertine rift. Among
the mammals there is a high level of sub-specific endemism, for
instance the Rwenzori colobus monkey Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii
and Ruwenzori leopard Panthera pardus ruwenzorii. Although in low
numbers due to trapping, some globally threatened species are still found
in the park: elephant Loxodonta africana (V), chimpanzee Pan
troglodytes (EN) and l'Hoests monkey Cercopithecus l'hoesti
(V). Threatened or now rare species also include blue monkey Cercopithecus
mitis stuhlmanii, yellow-backed duiker Cephalophus sylvicultor,
sitatunga Tragelophus spekei, giant hog, hylochoerus meinertzhageni,
bushpig potomochoerus porcus, the Rwenzori hyrax Dendrohyrax
arboreus ruwenzorii and Ruwenzori otter-shrew Micropotamogale ruwenzorii
(EN) (Yeoman, 1985).
There are at least 177 species of forest birds (17.6% of the country's
total) according to Wilson (1995) including 19 birds endemic to the Albertine
rift. Notable species are the bamboo warbler Bradypterus alfredi
and Shelley's crimson-wing Cryptospiza shelleyi (T) the endemic
Ruwenzori turaco Musophage johnstoni, and two sunbirds, the regal
Cynnyris regius and the larger scarlet-tufted malachite Nectorinia
johnstonii dartmouthi. There are also 15 species of butterfly (22%
of the country's total) (Howard, 1991) and a 1948-49 study of invertebrate
life forms listed 60 species in the alpine zone, 25 of which were new
to science (Salt, 1987). This suggests that a more extensive fauna may
still be awaiting discovery.
CULTURAL HERITAGE TThe Rwenzori Mountains are
the homelands of the Bakonzo and Baamba peoples. The Bakonzo are a Bantu-speaking
people who have lived in the foothills of the mountains for many generations,
and whose culture is adapted to the steep slopes and climate of Rwenzori
(Yeoman, 1992). Fear of a powerful spirit as well as inaccessibility has
kept men away from the highlands.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION In 1910, the colonial
boundary between the Congo and Uganda divided the Bakonzo, Baamba and
the related Banande people to the west, an artificial division into which
they have never fitted comfortably (Yeoman, 1992). The region is one of
the most densely populated in Africa with 150-450 people/sq km. The Rwenzori
area itself is home to three hundred thousand Bakonzo people (Loefler,1997).
In the 1960s, coffee, mountaineering and the Kalimbe mine brought prosperity
and improved health services and infrastructure to the region. 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 were mainly carried out sustainably,
and new agreements have been made about the harvesting rights. No-one
currently lives within the park, although the higher slopes in many places
are cultivated up to its border, causing erosion and landslips and the
demands of a growing population continue to increase. Illegal hunting
of small game no longer continues, presumably because there is little
left. Agriculture apart, the Park is now the main source of income for
local communities (Loefler,1997).
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES The Rwenzori
Mountains have been known for millennia as 'the Mountains of the Moon'.
They are a spectacular if often wet and mist-hidden tourist attraction
that have drawn visitors for much of this century. The high altitude flora
was described as 'Africa's botanic Big Game' by the botanist Hedberg in
1963 and has great tourist potential. However, as there are no motorable
tracks, the tourism is strenuous. The number of tourists was 150 in 1984
but between 1990 and 1995 there were over seven thousand visitors who
spent an average of five to six nights on the mountain (Loefler, 1997).
With the support of USAID, the Bakonzo's Rwenzori Mountaineering Services
(RMS), began to provide logistic support to visitors, including guides,
paths, signposts, bridges and mountain huts to direct some income from
tourism to the local people to earn their support for the Park.
The Park was closed between July 1997 and late 2000 during the unrest,
and security is still an issue. There is a small hostel at Ibanda, the
Park headquarters, and some facilities at Fort Portal, but visitors are
encouraged to stay in Kasese town. This is the railhead of the east-west
railway line across the country, and RMS has graded the road to Ibanda
where mountain treks begin. However, Uganda National Parks has taken over
many of the responsibilities of RMS to prevent private NGOs and companies
from monopolising the tourism trade. Trails in the lower montane forest
are to be created for visitors not wanting to climb.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The most
extensive ground survey work of the mountains was conducted between August
1985 and September 1986, as part of a large scale Forest Department inventory,
by Howard (1991). Salt (1987) made a study of the invertebrate species
in the high altitude alpine zone. Yeoman also collected much baseline
biodiversity data during the 1980s while preparing his book Africa's Mountains
of the Moon: Journeys to the Snowy Sources of the Nile (1992). No permanent
scientific facilities exist in the area. The steep inaccessible and inhospitable
slopes have discouraged research as well as exploitation.
CONSERVATION VALUE The Rwenzori mountains, higher
than the Alps and ice-capped though nearly on the Equator, are exceptional
for their scientific importance and spectacular scenery. They are the
most permanent sources of the Nile and one of the region's most vital
water catchments for over 500,000 people. Because of their altitudinal
range, and the nearly constant temperatures, humidity and high insolation,
the mountains support the richest montane fauna in Africa. There is an
outstanding range of species, many, especially at high altitude, endemic
to the Albertine rift and bizarre in appearance. Also present are at least
three globally threatened mammals, plus a potentially large number of
undocumented invertebrates and plants, all threatened by a growing population
and the breakdown of order following civil conflict. The park is a small
but significant element of the transnational western (Albertine) rift
system of protected areas, one of the most extensive conservation zones
in Africa. Conserving the Rwenzori is a major opportunity to maintain
intact a sensitive and extensive natural habitat (Howard, 1991).
CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT Until 1991, the Rwenzori
Forest Reserve was managed but not effectively protected by the local
district forest offices. Owing to lack of departmental infrastructure
and vehicular access points into the reserve, management consisted of
sporadic foot patrols into the forest by small numbers of forest rangers
only. The most recent management plan, for the period 1961-71 (Leggat
& Beaton, 1961), permitted limited extraction of forest resources, but
it was never fully implemented, nor was the reserve demarcated. RMS took
on some management such as developing visitor facilities and training
guides. The mountains were designated a national park to pre-empt threats
from an ever-increasing population. Participatory conservation has become
a guiding policy and local communities are encouraged to join the management
of the park, especially of the lower forests, to overcome their fears
that their traditional use of forest resources would be curtailed.
The Rwenzori Mountains Conservation and Development Project, funded by
USAID and implemented by WWF in the early 1990s started making improvements.
Phase 1 was the preparation of a park management plan, to cover zoning,
tourism development, infrastructure and community participation; also
the reduction of local pressure on the park through promoting soil conservation
and agroforestry, and raising the levels of conservation awareness (WWF,1996).
Kilembe Mines of Kasese are to take a management role after completing
a hydroelectric facility on the Mubuku river: rural electrification may
reduce the current pressing need for fuelwood.
MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS Following the breakdown
of law and order during the 1970s and 1980s, the montane forest zone was
violated by intensive hunting for bushmeat and other resources. As a result
the wild buffalo is now extinct in Uganda and many species formerly abundant
are now rare. In 1991 local communities were wary of the park being gazetted
for fear of losing their use of it (Yeoman, 1992). In addition, the only
trail to the highest peaks was being used beyond its carrying capacity
(Loefler, 1997). The increase in visitor numbers to unsustainable levels
of use in the 1990s brought trail erosion and widening, loss of vegetation
and substrate, rubbish and unsanitary conditions on The Park is not yet
zoned and for long was not patrolled. Moreover, the high cost of central
administration may be beginning to pre-empt the use of funds for local
projects. There is need for a plan and a consistent and enforced policy
in the interests of the latter and to control the numbers and destructiveness
of tourists (Yeoman,1989). Lush, (1993) listed the bases for an action
During the 1990's there was a suspension of projects, serious insecurity
and a lack of facilities and monitoring over a greater part of the Park.
There was concern that the income generated by tourism has not been enough
to support local communities, whose only other source of income is agriculture.
Moreover, the population density of the area surrounding the park, already
very high (between 150 and 430 persons/sq.km), is increasing and the consequent
denudation and erosion of the foothills outside the park boundary continues.
The Park was closed to visitors in 2000 as civil unrest still made it
unsafe for people and animals and the local people still saw it as a major
source of resources while the Park staff had no means of dealing with
either challenge. Illegal logging, poaching and trafficking in small animals
especially by local armed groups remain common. (UNESCO,2000). But by
2001, security had improved enough for the Park to be reopened to visitors
STAFF The park is managed by a Chief Park Warden
assisted by four wardens. There is a ranger force of 32 men who patrol
the forest and maintain the trails (undated information).
BUDGET In 1991 USAID, working with the WWF and
RMS, funded the Rwenzori Mountains Conservation & Development Project
to improve the management of the natural resources. In 1997 WWF granted
$772,976 and in 2001 the WHB approved US$64,000 emergency assistance for
equipment (UNESCO, 2002).
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DATE March 1994. Updated 10/1995, 5/1997, March