Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, famous for gorilla safaris, is a UNESCO World Heritage site occupying 331 sq km. It is famous for its rare species which include mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). Bwindi is a diverse natural forest area with a continuum of habitats ranging from 1190 meters to 2560 meters above sea level. The park lies within the Kigezi Highlands that were formed through up-warping of the western rift valley (“Albertine Rift” see below). The landscape is extremely rugged, with steep ridges and narrow valleys, and a general incline from the high deeply dissected south and southeast to the lower north and northwest. The only level areas within the park are the Mubwindi swamp (approximately 1sqkm) and Ngoto swamp (approximately 0.1sqkm).
Bwindi Impenetrable forest was managed as a productive forest reserve from 1932. In 1991, the forest gained national park status with the official name of ‘Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’. 'Omubwindi' refers to darkness in the local language. It is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) as part of the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA). BMCA comprises Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (the Ugandan portion of the Virunga Mountains). BMCA is part of the Greater Virunga Landscape, which includes south western Uganda, eastern Democratic of Congo (DRC) and north western Rwanda.
Bwindi lies within a densely populated rural landscape with as many as 500 people/km2 in some areas. The steep slopes immediately surrounding the park are heavily cultivated and thus forest cover stops abruptly at the park boundary. The majority of the families belong to Bantu people such as Bakiga and Bafumbira and a few to the Batwa “pygmy” people.
Local communities are allowed to collect specific forest products from designated areas of the park called ‘Multiple Use Zones’. These products include weaving materials, medicinal plants and honey. Tourism is a major source of income to park authorities and provides employment to local people.
ITFC is located at Ruhija (01o02’46”S and 29o46'20” E) on the edge of Bwindi at 2346 meters above sea level. The station’s facilities include office space, library, internet, meeting rooms, a students’ dormitory and 5 houses to accommodate staff and visitors.
The climate in Bwindi is equatorial with two rainfall peaks from March to May and September to November. Heavy mists often form in early mornings and after rainfall. Summary data from different weather stations around Bwindi are given in table 1 below. The highest temperatures occur at the lowest altitudes and visa-versa and annual rainfall tends to vary between one and two meters.
Mean Annual Rainfall (mm), Maximum and Minimum Temperature (degrees celicious) for Bwindi.