Semuliki National Park (SMP) is situated in the extreme west of Uganda in Bundibugyo district. It lies along the Uganda/Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border within the western arm of the East African Rift Valley. In the southeast are the Rwenzori Mountains, to the west is the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the north are the Semuliki Flats and Lake Albert further on.
Semuliki Natioanl Park is an eastern extension of the vast Ituri forest in Democratic Republic of Congo. It forms part of the forest continuum resulting out of the climatic upheavals of the Pleistocene and therefore one of the richest areas for both flora and fauna in Africa (especially for birds).
Semuliki National Park (220km2) was gazetted in October 1993. The park occupies a flat with gently undulating landform ranging from 670m to 760m above sea level. Since all streams and rivers from the surrounding areas drain through the park, coupled with the poor drainage and topography, many areas in the park are flooded during the rainy season. The average annul rainfall is 1,250mm with peaks from March to May and September to December. The temperatures vary from 18°C with relatively small daily variations.
Semuliki National Park is the only lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa classified as moist and semi-deciduous. There are 336 tree species recorded of which 24 are restricted to Semuliki National Park, to the eastern part of the range, or are shared with only one or two neighbouring forests; They include Isolana congolana, Nesogordonia kabingaensis and Ejacis guineesis. Some tree species in Semuliki National Park such as Cordia millenii and Lovoa surymertonii are considered to be endangered.
A survey carried out in 1999 by the Forest Department determined that, compared to other forest parks in Uganda, Semuliki is of exceptional diversity for small mammals, birds and butterflies. Fauna recorded include 435 bird species (about 34% of Uganda’s total), some of which cannot be found elsewhere in East Africa, including some of the continent’s most spectacular and sought after birds such as horn bills and lyre tailed honey guide.
There are 63 species of mammals, 9 species of which are diurnal forest primates (e.g. chimpanzees, blue monkey, vervet monkeys and olive baboon), while nocturnal primates include pottos and galagos. The following species of mammals are also found in Semuliki National Park: – Forest buffaloes, blue duiker, beecroft’s flying squirrels, pigmy squirrel, little collared fruit bat, water chevrotain and target rat.
At least 374 species of butterflies and moths have been identified including 46 species of forest swallowtails and charaxes plus at least 81 species of large moth, 12 of which are classified as restricted. The wide range of species is attributed not only to the forest’s location, but also to the varied habitats, forest swamp, grassland, bush land and an extensive system of hot springs, warm swamp and savanna woodland.
There are four ethnic groups living around the park. The Bamba and Bakonjo are found in the valley and mountain slopes respectively and both are agriculturalists depending on cash crops like coffee, cocoa and food crops mainly bananas, rice and potatoes. The Batuku who occupy the rift valley floor, north of the park are pastrolists who depend entirely on cattle products which they trade in with their neighbours (in both Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo).The Batwa (pigmies) are hunters and gatherers, and are an Ituri ethnic group who historically depended and still depend on Semuliki Forest. Their life style is now changing due to interaction with other local communities and the impact of tourism. In 1993, the Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA) convinced the Batwa and resettled them near Ntandi in a bid to integrate them into local cultural and agricultural life, but the project failed. The Batwa now spend part of their time in their new homes and the other in their traditional homes (the forest). All in all, they now live by hunting, fruit gathering, assistance from local communities and contributions from tourists who go to interact with them.
The following are the tourist activities that take place at Semiliki National Park.
- Nocuturnal birdwatching.
The area around the geothermal hot springs at Sempaya is not only very scenic but also offers some great birding. The cliffs behind the ranger post are home to the crepuscular Freckled Nightjar and these can be seen gliding around the clearing with Black-shouldered Nightjars. In the lush rainforest around here listen for the bizarre dawn and dusk duetting of the elusive Nkulengu Rail. Other nocturnal callers include Buff-spotted Flufftail and African Wood Owl. Around the cleaning and through other light gaps in the area, it is possible to glimpse African Goshawk, Red-thighed and Great Sparrows, Ayres Hawk-Eagle and Cassin’s Spinetail.From the ranger post, head north (right) along the ” Boundary Trail ” . Crested Guinea fowl skulk in the undergrowth and the hollow hooting of the White-spotted Flufftail is commonly heard near forest creek in this area. Turn left where the trail forks and continue to the ” Female” Hot Springs with boiling hot water squirts and bubbles out of the ground.
- Game drives.
Game drives through the Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve grasslands can avail you chances of seeing elephants, buffalos, Uganda kob, waterbucks, warthogs and crocs. On a lucky day, you could see leopards, the pygmy hippo and the elusive bush babies. You can decide to enjoy morning, afternoon or night drives in the reserve where you see nocturnal species white-tailed mangoose. A tour to Semuliki nationl park cant be complete without a guided or self drive trip through the plains so dont dare make a mistake of missing out on this exciting activity.
- Hiking and nature walks.
There are 3 main trails in the Semuliki national park which include the Kirumia trail which can take you on an 8 hour hike through the forest to the Semuliki river. This trail is ideal for birders.
The Red monkey track takes you along the eastern border where the rare deBrazza’s monkey can be found to the Semuliki river.
You can view primates and the hotsprings on a 2-4 hour walk along the Sempaya nature trail. This hike can be taken in the morning or in the afternoon.
- cultural encounters.
An encounter with the Batwa pygmy community can give you an insight into their rich cultural history and lifestyle through music and dance performances that can be enjoyed at Ntandi. Handycrafts are also available for you to buy as souvenirs for loved ones and as away to support the local tribe.
- Visit to the Sempaya hot springs.
Tourists get excited when travelling to Uganda the Pearl of Africa because they want to have a diverse memorable experience. they are attracted by the magical Sempaya hot springs located in Semuliki National Park. The interesting nice looking hot springs has a hole in the ground that shoots out hot water and steam shooting up from a distance of like 8m wide hole at hot temperatures. The hot spring is well known because it’s the only spring in the continent that is composed of both female and male hot springs.
The most interesting part of the hot spring is that in its natural boiling water one can boil food such as eggs in only period of ten minutes and hence practical visitors should come with one or two eggs so that you can boil your own egg practically.
The interesting hot spring’s hole located beneath the earth surface shoots out the hot water which also shows how powerful subterranean forces that are said to have shaped the Rift Valley many years ago. Besides experiencing the hot spring, visitors on Uganda safaris and tours are also rewarded by watching the primates like the chimpanzees, grey-checked mangabey as well as the red-tailed monkey, and other species like elephants among others all along the trail that heads to the hot spring.
The memorable experience is gained more from having face to face encounter with the Batwa locals who are the inhabitants of the forest. Visiting the group of people in Uganda who are seriously disappearing and they occupy this particular part of the country is more rewarding to any Uganda safari undertaker. The long lasting impression comes from the unique cultural dances, drama ,art craft, and other traditional believes that visitors will have chance to see by their naked eyes.
An hour long walk to the male spring can take you through the forest full of red-tailed monkeys, black and white colubus monkeys. You can enjoy an aerial view of the place from a tree house enroute. A 30 minute walk through a palm forest can lead you to the female spring which is well-known for its boiling geyser.