As a result, as most of nowadays forests are not further than 12,000 years old, Bwindi’s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over 25,000 years, in the process accumulating an extensive species list.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is old, complex, and very biologically rich. Diverse species are a feature of the park, and it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ecological importance. Among East African forests, Bwindi has some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles, and moths. The park’s diverse species are partly a result of the large variations of altitude and habitat types in the park, and may also be because the forest was a refuge for species during glaciations in the Pleistocene epoch.
The park’s forests are afromontane, which is a rare vegetation type on the African continent. Located where plain and mountain forests meet, there is a continuum of low-altitude to high altitude primary forests in the park, one of the few large tracts of East African forest where this occurs. The park has more than 220 tree species, (more than 50% of Uganda’s tree species) and more than 100 fern species. The Brown Mahogany is a threatened plant species found within the park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is among the very few tropical rain forests in East Africa where the lowland and montane vegetation zones meet together. Bwindi acted as Pleistocene refugium and it was able to protect the jungle during the ice age when Africa didn’t have such dense vegetation cover. It served as a water tower for most of the wildlife species that relied on the forest unlike other areas that didn’t have any forest or vegetation cover.
Importance of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is also a renowned water catchment place that has supported agricultural practices especially for adjacent local communities as well as the major source for several rivers like Ivi, Munyaga, Ihihizo Ishasha and Ntengyere that drain into Lake Edward. Rivers like Ndego, Kanyamwabo and Shongi flow southwards to Lake Mutanda.
Despite visiting the Bwindi for the rare mountain gorillas, the park is popularly credited for its 400 plant species and intense wildlife diversity. The park is composed of abundant, lush, fogy rainforests accompanied by an intense variety of bird species, wildlife and butterflies. Visitors flock into the area for birding and as well, you can take a trip to Munyanga River which forms another spectacular experience of a life time. The walk onto the river helps to bring visitors close to all its three pristine water falls together with its rare, rich vegetation of tree ferns, colorful orchids and epithetic ferns that make the scenic beauty of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
Bwindi has numerous vegetation types that are widely categorized into Medium altitude, Moist ever green and High altitude forest. The High altitude which is some times called Afro montane forest is a highly limited vegetation category in Africa. Bwindi was named as “Impenetrable” forest due to its thick herbs, vines and shrubs.
Other people have called Bwindi’s forest by different names like undistinguished Moist Montane Forest, moist montane forest, tropical and lowland montane evergreen rain forest among others. In an estimated, almost 50% of the park is covered by mixed forest which is concentrated around its altitudes and it is characterized by canopy from plant species like Red stinkwood, Newtonia, Symphonia globulifera, East African yellow wood and Strombosia scheffleri. Beneath the main forest there are species like Xymalos, Neoboutonia Macrocalyx, Monospora, Myrianthus holstii, Teclea nobilis and Allophylus abyssinicus. For those interested in learning about different plant species, then Bwindi’s is an ideal place for you.
The vegetation formations are more restricted by altitude and at about 1500 meters above the sea level, Parinariexcelsa takes about 10% of the total area forest cover while 11% is covered by Newtonia buchananii about 2000 meters, then 8% is covered by chrysophyllum gorungosanum at 2200 meters. Bamboo “Arundinaria Alpina” covers about 1% of the forest at the highest altitude while the remaining 30% includes the swamps, herbaceous cover and colonizing forest. If you are interested in Bamboo trail, you will never miss to see some of the 14 (fourteen) different vegetation types that are located in this area. The Bamboo Trail is one of the richest areas in terms of biodiversity and it offers one of the spectacular panoramic views especially on Lake Bunyonyi and Mafuga Forest.
The Northern block is composed of the lowest altitude vegetation and it comprises of Parinari along the Ishasha and Ihihizo river valleys. As you slope deep into the valleys, the soils still support forests like Entandrophragma “African Mahogany” together with the Newtonia buchananii, Aningeria adolfifriederici and Symphonia globulifera. As you move on poorly drained places, you will find Syzygium guineense and Ocotea usambarensis which grow to bigger sizes. At the higher ridges, you will find Podocarpus. The destabilized forests of Albizia, Milletiadura and Canthium Vulgare take place in this area mostly near the perimeter of the forest. It is believed that as time goes on such forest is most likely to be replaced by a late secondary formation which includes plant species like Ficalhoa laurifolia, Hagenia abyssinica, Maesopsis eminii, Polyscias fulva and Nuxia congesta which comes with large lianas.
The major forest block to the south is composed of Chrysophyllum species which also includes Entandrophragma, Newtonia and Prunus Africana but with smaller areas of dominant Parinari at the base of the river valley. The Podocarpus milanjianus that were once dominant have disappeared due to exploitation. However, Podocarpus gracilior is still the main dominant along the swamp edges. You will realize that as you move on the higher altitudes, the vegetation becomes shorter and mostly composed of open herbaceous areas. These contribute on the dense growth of herbaceous plants like Mimulopsis solmsii, Mimulopsis arborescens and bracken fern “Pteridium aquillinum.” This area serves as the major feeding area for the mountain gorillas, forest elephants and other ground dependent wildlife in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. For gorilla trekking, you can visit the area and chance to know some of the unique plant species. It is not certain how much of open vegetation is natural and how much can be referred to ancient anthropogenic disturbance like logging and fire out breaks at early times and mid 20th century. As well, forest elephants have also been attributed for creation and maintenance of the open places within the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Most importantly, the existence of swampy areas within the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is some thing of value to wildlife and several bird species and amphibians. They also attract elephants “Loxodonta Africana” at a dry season.
You can access the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on road and by air. By road, you can take the Kampala to Ntungamo to Kagaba to Rukungiri to Kihihi to Butogota and enter the park at Buhoma; or Kampala to Mbarara to Kasese to Kihihi and Buhoma road. At Ishasha area, make a stop over and enjoy the lush of tree climbing lions or have great moments at the Equator. By air: Fly from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield up to Kihihi or Kisoro.
In conclusion, Bwindi has varied vegetation types that are defined by their altitudes and they are worth visiting as they offer unique biodiversity. Visiting the park is more than interacting with mountain gorillas but also a chance to enjoy abundant wildlife right from flora to fauna that are still unexploited.