Kibale National Park is an attractive park in Uganda with varied tracts of tropical rain forest and a multiplicity of animals located in western Uganda slightly off the Equator.
It is known as the “primate capital of East Africa” with 13 different primate species. It is home to more than 1,450 chimpanzee protected within its borders of 795km2. It is by far the best place to see Chimps in East Africa. The chimpanzees have been habituated for over 26 years giving you a chance to see the great apes in their natural environment. Children have to be 15 years and above to track the Chimpanzees.
The forest’s varied altitude supports different habitats; woodland, Savannah, wet tropical forest and semi-deciduous dry tropical forest which gives the park opportunity to host different wildlife that reside in the different habitats.
The mammal species in Kibale forest are estimated at 60 and include leopards, Duikers, Forest Elephants, Forest Buffaloes, Golden cats, Warthogs, and Bush Pigs. On a lucky day you might sight a few Elephants, Buffaloes or Bush Pigs but normally you will only find their footprints because they tend to move away when they detect activity in the forest.
The main attraction in the forest is searching for chimpanzees with activities of chimpanzee trekking and chimpanzee habituation experience being the reason why most people visit Kibale national park. The park is host to 13 primate species that include; bush babies, L’Hoest’s monkey, red colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey, black-and-white colobus monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, olive baboon, blue monkey, Vervet monkeys and Potto.
Kibale forest is a prime birding spot and is home to over 375 bird species including six endemics to the Albertine Rift area. It is an excellent birding spot because of its varied habitat and dense vegetation that give birds a safe haven and plenty of food to feed on. Birding usually happens early in the morning and late evenings for the nocturnal birds.
Green breasted Pitta is one of the main attraction for birders visiting the park. Other bird species to look out for include; Red-chested owlet, Purple breasted sunbird, African Grey Parrot, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Crowned Eagle, little Greenbul, Black Bee eater, White-naped pigeon, andScaly-breasted Illadopsis, Western bronze-napped Pigeon, Nahan’s Francolin, Yellow-throated Nicator, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Red Headed malimbe , Yellow-spotted barbet , Dusky-blue Flycatcher etc.
Chimpanzees are the prime attraction for many visiting Kibale national park. Chimpanzee trekking has been happening in Kibale forest since 1993. Chimpanzee trekking is done twice a day i.e. early morning at 8am and afternoon at 2pm, therefore you have an opportunity to choose which time is conducive for you but morning is highly recommended. You will meet for briefing from the ranger guide before the trek starts to hear and learn about the expectations while in the forest and about other wildlife in the park. Trackers go before you and search for where the chimps nested the previous night and where they are located, they then relay this information to your ranger guide to lead you towards their location – remember the Chimps keep moving so they give the rangers information on the go. You need to be ready to walk long distances and carry along rain poncho because in a tropical forest it can rain anytime. Other items include long sleeved shirt and pants, comfortable waterproof boots, binoculars, camera, insect repellant.
Chimpanzees are habituated over a period of 2 years before they get used to humans. The CHEX (Chimpanzee habituation experience) happens every morning, visitors go along with the rangers and research staff and watch chimps leaving their overnight nests before they start their daily activities, feeding, hunting, copulating, breastfeeding, patrolling and resting. When this process is repeated over time, the Chimps get used to humans and that family is included on those that can be tracked.
The forest is rich in variety and the chimpanzee trekking may not give you enough time to take in all that the forest offers because you are focused on location the chimps. There is an option of a 12km hike through the forest. Here you are able to spot more variety of birds and animals. On a lucky day, you may encounter bush pigs, Duikers, and Elephants. This is available in the dry season (December – February and June – September) because the wet season most of the trail is impassable. There is also an option of night walks to see the nocturnal when the other forest inhabitants rest. The rangers use powerful torches to seek nocturnal such as bush baby, hyrax, potto and occasionally serval cat and civet. These walks last 2.5 hours and leave at 7pm.
Led by a local guide, you will get a chance to meet the native Batooro people as well as the Bakiga immigrants (from the densely populated southwestern part of Uganda) who stay around this park. During the Kibale Cultural Tours you will visit a traditional village to see the traditional lifestyle of the Batoro, visit the local church, primary school, traditional healer and get a closer encounter with these natives. You will also enjoy some energetic traditional dances and songs by the Bakiga.
The Kasenda area found in Fort Portal is home to more than 50 different crater lakes which are surrounded by steep sided volcanoes. a visit to this picturesque are will give you an opportunity to appreciate the unique landscape of this area.
Although Kibale National Park is accessible throughout the year, the Best time to Visit the park is during the dry season when the trails are dry and passable. This runs from December to February and then from June to September. The wettest area in Kibale is the northern area, receiving an average annual rainfall of approximately 1700mm, mainly during March to May and September to November. The climate is usually pleasant with an average annual temperature range of 14C to 27C. The southern part of the park experiences the maximum temperatures and lower amounts of rains where the terrain drops onto the hot rift valley floor and forest provides way to open grassland.
You can access the park from Entebbe International airport for scheduled/charter flights to Kasese Airstrip which is an hour from Kibale national park or drive from Kampala via Fort portal to Kibale forest (recommended direct route). Alternatively, Kampala – Mbarara – Kibale forest via Ibanda (in case you have a stopover there for an activity) and finally from Queen Elizabeth national park – Kasese – Fort portal – Kibale forest or Queen Elizabeth national park – Kasese – Kasekende craters – Kibale national park.