Though less well known as a safari destination and more densely populated than its East African neighbors Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda boasts an extraordinary diversity of habitats, scenery, and wildlife species. The string of protected areas along the western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Albertine Rift, harbors half the world’s mountain gorillas, huge populations of hippos, as well as elephants, chimpanzees, lions, and much more. These species inhabit an exquisite patchwork of habitats including tropical rainforest, East African savannah, lakes and wetlands, and mountain vegetation. The north of the country, along the Sudanese border, is drier, with grasslands inhabited by giraffes and cheetahs as well as traditional pastoral people. The swamps of central Uganda and the southeast, harbor shoebill storks and the national bird, the crested crane.
Despite poverty, poor governance, and civil war throughout the country from the 1960s to the 1980s, and continued civil unrest in the north until a few years ago, Uganda has set aside its most biologically important savannahs and forests as national parks, managed them relatively well, and built a strong ecotourism industry. Little wildlife remains outside of parks though, and poaching for bushmeat remains a problem. Newer challenges for conservation include the discovery of oil in the west and climate change, but Uganda’s impressive diversity of habitats may offer wildlife species the opportunity to adapt to the changing climate better than they could in most other parts of the world.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of a group of protected areas in the Greater Virunga Landscape along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo that provide refuge to mountain gorillas.
- About one-third of Uganda is covered with fresh water rivers, lakes and swamps, including Lake Victoria and Murchison Falls, a spectacular site in Uganda’s largest national park.
- Most of Uganda’s 24 million people practice subsistence agriculture, and the country has one of Africa’s highest rural population densities.
Uganda’s high human density means that most protected areas have “hard edged” boundaries and people and wildlife come into frequent contact—a big problem when animals raid crops or people illegally hunt them for meat or remove trees to produce charcoal. The relatively small size of the parks, with only narrow corridors between them, also threatens the viability of small wildlife populations. Uganda’s government has limited capabilities to monitor wildlife and the threats they face, regulate the tourism and oil industries, and protect the environment.
WCS has the most extensive history of any conservation NGO in Uganda and today works with the government and other partners across the northern and western parts of the country. Since commencing biological surveys of Uganda’s savanna parks in 1957, WCS has supported Ugandan conservation continuously despite periods of civil unrest. WCS’s renowned Kibale Forest Project of the 1970s and 1980s pioneered studies of primates and the impact of logging, built the Makerere University Biological Field Station and led to the creation of the park in 1993. Since then, WCS has helped establish and manage the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Bwindi Trust; improved park management across Uganda through training and help with management planning; catalyzed cross-border collaboration; and supported numerous Ugandan students. Today WCS is helping meet new challenges to the Greater Virunga Landscape, Murchison and Kidepo National Parks, including environmental sensitivity mapping for oil exploration and models of climate change impact.
As the eyes and ears for conservationists, ecoguards work not only to protect national parks and surrounding lands, but also to help evaluate the success of international conservation efforts.
Uganda’s Albertine Rift is a wildlife haven and an important source of food and water to local people. It also harbors important hydrocarbon reserves, and is a target for the country’s growing energy industry. WCS works to ensure the industry operates sustainably, with regard for the vulnerability of the surrounding environment.
Throughout Ebola high-risk zones, our researchers assess great ape health and improve Ebola prevention awareness in remote communities.
From the Newsroom
The future looks bleak for Africa’s lions. According to a new report, a fence may be the only thing that stands between them and extinction.
The thick-coated mountain gorilla only inhabits two places on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Volcanoes in the African nations of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Researchers who discovered a prehistoric crocodile fossil have named the species Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni, in honor of the late WCS conservationist Dr. John Thorbjarnarson. The enormous horned croc was a relative of the Nile crocodile that lives today.
WCS conservationist Carol Bogezi and others, trained by late WCS croc expert John Thorbjarnarson, continue critical research of the little-known pygmy Nile crocodile.
Elephants that share their turf with poachers may face life-threatening injuries when they encounter a rusty manacle buried in the foliage.