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Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve

Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve : also known as a conservation protected area in the western part of Uganda, located in Kabarole district in the Toro sub-region, on the floor of the rift valley where Lake Albert, Kijura escarpment and the mighty Rwenzori mountains create backdrops. The wildlife reserve is about 55 kilometers (34 mi) by road, north of Fort portal, the nearest large city and a gem to the tourism industry in Uganda. The reserve was established as a game reserve in 1926 and was among the first protected areas to be gazette. The main reason was to protect the large numbers of Uganda kobs in the area and its within Ntoroko and Kabarole districts. The dominant vegetation type is the open acacia-combretum woodland and grassy savannah, interspersed with patches of Borassus palm forest, significant belts of riparian woodland along the main watercourses, as well as some extensive swamps towards Lake Albert. It is a topographically unremarkable set at a relatively low altitude starting from around 700 meters above sea level but on a clear day, the setting is truly awesome with the sheer rift valley escarpment rising sharply from the eastern shore of Lake Albert, the 2500 meters high Congolese blue mountains on the western horizon and the mighty glacial peaks of mountain Rwenzori that is visible to the south-west.

South west of the Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve are the 3rd highest elevated mountains in Africa, none other than the Rwenzori Mountains and North to the reserve is the famous Lake Albert, the furthest-north of the great rift lakes. Appearing as one of the few spots where the extinct shoebill bird can be found, Lake Albert is a great destination for birding tours in Uganda. West of the reserve is the board Congolese rain forest that contains one of the richest, most extinct species reservoirs in the world and one of the planet’s biggest covers of the un-logged forest. The reserve is a predominantly grassy savanna and acacia combretum woodland echoing Murchison Falls National Park at the northern end of Lake Albert. Stands of Borassus palms, lakeshore marshland and broad river valleys filled with beautiful gallery forest all add variety. It is a home to a number of wild animals such as elephants, leopards, waterbucks, giant forest hog, hippos, Uganda kobs, buffalos and many more. Primates include chimpanzees though rarely seen, baboons, vervet monkey, red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus monkey, dent’s mona monkey, central African red colobus, blue monkey and de Brazza’s. All these can be found along the forest trails. The reserve boosts over 440 bird species like red-necked falcon, black-billed barbet, great white pelican, malachite kingfisher, Abyssinian ground-hornbill, African pygmy goose, black coucal, pennant-winged nightjar, piapiac to mention a few. The shoebill is usually sighted in the marshes of Lake Albert. Toro semliki reserve is characterized by a hot climate, with the temperature halving after the sunsets, and the constant prospect of rain. Its two wet seasons; March to May and August to November bring little relief from the heat, despite lots of rain-particularly from March to May when local roads get washed out. You’ll get slightly less soaked during what passes for the dry seasons; December to February and June to July. There are four communities living around the reserve and these include;

Kasesenge-kyakabaseke community

It is located on the Eastern escarpment of the rift valley and the biggest number of them are the Bakiga migrants who originally came to work tea estates in the 1960s. During the good seasons, tea provided a stable income and as the prices of tea deteriorated, they resorted to crop cultivation mainly beans, maize, bananas and groundnuts.

Karugutu-kyabandara community

The community is situated in the south of the Toro semuliki wildlife reserve about 18 kilometers from Fort portal town. It is mainly inhabited by the Bakonjo who are traditional cultivators. The crops mainly grown are soya beans, bananas, cassava, beans and rice some of which are sold in Rwebisengo and Ntoroko markets.

Ntoroko fishing community

This community is at the south-eastern tip of Lake Albert between the estuaries of Wasa and Muzizi rivers. The area covering approximately 4 square kilometers has been excised from the reserve and gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary to provide protection of any wildlife that interface in this area. The Ntoroko community depends mainly on fishing.

Rwebisengo community

The community is located on the west and northwestern edge of the reserve in the Semliki flats. It comprises the Batuku (Batoro-Bahuma) who are predominantly pastoralists and are believed to be descendants of the Abarusula who were the royal army of the King Kabalega of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.

What to do at Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve

Birdwatching

The reserve is a bird-watcher’s paradise and it has over 440 bird species recorded in a variety of habitats. These birds include red-necked falcon, black-billed barbet, great white pelican, malachite kingfisher, Abyssinian ground-hornbill, African pygmy goose, black coucal, pennant-winged nightjar, stunning red-throated bee-eater and more. The adjacent Semuliki National Park offers a great opportunity to add several species associated with the Congolese rainforest. Migratory birds are present from November to April.

Guided nature walks

These are conducted near Semuliki safari lodge where you will meet an experienced guide. You will go through a variety of habitats ranging from savannah woodland to riverine forest. During the walks, you will come across chimpanzees, baboons, waterbucks, red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus monkey, warthogs, elephants, Uganda kobs, buffaloes, ground hornbills among others.

Game drives

There are three tracks across the savannah grassland of the reserve. Animals regularly seen are elephants, warthogs, buffalo, waterbucks, Uganda kobs, leopards, white-tailed mongoose and bushbabies. Game drives at the reserve are carried out in the morning, afternoon and at night.

Community tours

The Karugutu Community Conservation Association (KCCA) is a community-based association whose objective is conservation education through Music Dance and Drama (MDD). This group organizes traditional dances for the visitors and they have a shop for handcrafts at the entrance of the reserve which they sell to tourists.

Hiking to the Nyaburogo Gorge

This is an ideal walk for birders that starts right at the reserve headquarters. It is a 7 kilometers hike that goes through a diversity of habitats like woodland, savanna and a forest in the gorge. During the hike, you will come across different bird species such as tropical boubal, black-headed Bushrike, arrow marked babbler, luhdrers bushrike and primates like black and white colobus monkey, vervet monkey, baboons and with good luck you can also see chimpanzees.

How to get there

Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve is approximately 1 hour from Fort Portal town and it’s located about 300km/180mi from Kampala. It is approximately a 6 to 8 hours’ drive and the reserve is visited throughout the year.  

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