SEMLIKI NATIONAL PARK:
At the western arm of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley, below the Rwenzori Mountains and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, lies Uganda’s moist forest semliki national park. It was named after the 160 kilometer long River Semuliki which meanders along the Uganda and Congo border forming series of oxbow lakes. The Semuliki national park with an area of around 220 square metres, gazetted into a national park in 1993 lies at an altitude of around 67 to 760 metres above sea level. The park which is located at the floor of the rift valley features volcanic fissures that have formed geysers of boiling water at some points in the park. The Sempaya hot springs can be visited by tourists through a system of board walks over a swamp. At this site, the safari guides usually boil eggs and plantain over the bubbling water whose temperature exceeds boiling point levels.
The national park vegetation is comprised of the towering Iron wood forests which spread across the border into the Ituri forests, Palm trees and a swamp system that stretches to the river Semuliki banks. Some of the forest, with a record species of about 331 trees is as a result of the regenerating forests following the early logging at the beginning of the decade, prior to being gazetted a protected area.
Semuliki boasts of over 450 species of birds including the Albertine endemics. Some of these rare endemic species sought after by the bird watching tour groups include: Congo Serpent Eagle, Chestnut-winged Starling,Brown Illadopsis,Lesser Bristlebill,White-throated Greenbul, Plain Greenbul, White-throated Blue Swallow, Western Black-headed Oriole,Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Red-chested Sunbird, Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Narrow-tailed Starling, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Green-backed Bulbul, Blue-headed Crested-flycatcher and many others.
The Semliki National park is also a butterfly watchers paradise with the forests teeming with colorful butterflies like the Cymothoe ochreata, Acleros neavei,Falcuna iturina,Iridana bwamba, Epitola bwamba,Spalgis jacksoni, Cymothoe ochreata , Epamera mongiro and many others which can be spotted on the forest floors and along the several walking trails.
The animal species likely to be encountered on the visit to the Semliki park are the forest cape buffalo, Elephant alongside the elephants which are attracted to the Sulphur deposits close to the swamp margins of the forest.. The endemic rare antelope, the fanged deer or the Water Chevrotain that feeds on insects and crabs can be seen at dusk. This is a cross between a deer and a pig and is one of the rarest animals in Africa which is likely to be seen here. African Civets and the pygmy flying squirrels have also been observed in the forest near the park headquarters. The pygmy antelope endemic to only this part of the world in East Africa is one of the shy animals seen on a safari to the Semliki. Leopards, bush babies, Galagos are mostly nocturnal and may be seen by use of spotlights. Hippos too have been seen in the park as well as other species like the white bellied duikers.
For the primate lovers, the Semliki national park offers some trekking options where families of the Mona monkeys can be viewed foraging through the treetops for fruits which they keep in their pouched cheeks. They are identifiable from their distinct reddish coats of fur, white rumps and a blue scrotum.
De Brazza Monkeys with their trademark white beards and golden brown fur are active individuals recognized from the busy nature of swinging through the forest branches. Families of over 20 individuals are usually seen or heard from the canopies of the treetops feeding off fruit. Other rare species include the Uganda Red colubus, Black and white colubus monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Guereza monkey, Dent’s Monkey, grey cheeked Mangabeys, Chimpanzees as well as blue monkeys.
A local tribe of the Batwa pygmies has been settled a short distance away at Ntandi where day tours through their past ways of life are conducted. This was a group of people that lived in the forests as hunters and gatherers before the park was gazetted in the early 1990s. They now depend on proceeds from the park in a designated settlement where they live off agriculture and guided cultural tours. The Batwa cultural tours involve showing the skills of hunting and gathering and they will be happy to sell to the tourists their crafts made out of the locally harvested rattan from the National park. The Batwa pygmies or the Bambuti, are also allowed to pick mushrooms as well as do some traditional fishing in the confines of the national park. Lookout for their specifically designed marijuana smoking pipes crafted out of Bamboo.