Budongo Forest Reserve

Ecotourism in Uganda’s Budongo Forest Reserve

The Budongo forest reserve is situated in Buliisa district northwest Uganda, 220 km (4-hour drive) from the capital Kampala. The closest town Masindi is 29 km from the Budongo Ecotourism Centre formerly Kaniyo-Pabidi. Next to the main visitor centre is the Budongo Eco lodge and Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS). Both sites are open so you can plan a safari to Budongo to see chimpanzees and birds.

Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo forest started in 2009 and the activity is managed by the National Forestry Authority with other partners including the Uganda Lodges Chimpanzee permits are provided under the lodge’s management and are available for booking through a tour operator. Budongo forest is part of Murchison falls conservation area and blends into the itinerary well together with Ziwa rhino sanctuary in Nakasongola district off the highway to the park.


budongo forest reserve

Budongo is a primary semi-deciduous tropical rainforest. It covers 825 sq.km (318 sq.Miles) with an average altitude of 1,100 meters above sea level. The reserve occupies the southern banks of the Nile. This influences the composition of its vegetation. For instance, there are 3 different types of vegetation within Budongo including riverine forests, papyrus swamps and combretum savanna woodlands. There are 465 tree species recorded including the endangered African teak (Milicia excelsa), Musizi (Maesopsis eminii), and brown Mahogany, which occupies much of the forest. Wild mango trees (Irvingia gabonensis), Cordia Africana, and Cynometra cauliflora are also found in savanna bushwillows.

History of ecotourism in Budongo forest reserve

Murchison falls was designated as a national park in 1932  and Budongo became a central forest reserve. At the time the forest was inhabited by many elephants that would cross the river from the northern grasslands.  Due to the presence of elephants, hunting for bushmeat and poaching was common among the local communities, which greatly reduced their number of in Budongo.

budongo forest reserve

For instance, Fort Patiko in Gulu district, 154 km (2-hour drive north of Murchison falls) was an important ivory trade centre in East Africa during the early 19th century. The colonial government also developed interest in commercial timber harvesting of hardwood tree species like Mahogany. The threats to Budongo forest began to increase and no biodiversity inventory had been done. Population density in the Bunyoro sub-region has also been increasing for the last 40 years.

Many people from around the Great Lakes region and beyond started settling in the area which is now a mix of 18 different cultures. For instance, Nyabyeya parish became a settlement camp for the over 110,000 Polish refugees who stayed there until the end of world war II when they were resettled back to Europe in 1948. You can visit Our Lady Queen of Poland Catholic Church to learn more about their history. Today, there are over 9 villages adjacent to Budongo forest, which depend on natural resources through collection of medicinal herbs, food, water, firwood, and timber.

The Budongo Forest reserve Ecotourism Project (BFEP) 

Ecotourism in Budongo began in 1988 putting priority on tourism to raise money for conservation of the environment. A biodiversity inventory of Budongo forest was undertaken. The forest is rich in biodiversity including over 600 chimpanzees, 130 species of moth, 366 species of birds of which 2 aren’t found elsewhere in East Africa, 9 primate species including blue monkeys, L’hoest monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, olive baboons, patas monkeys, and velvet monkeys; 289 butterfly species, and 465 tree species including large tracts of brown Mahogany. Ecotourism puts limits on forest access and the locals at first perceive conservation efforts as depressing.

Measures to conserve primates and support local communities 

The introduction of tourism in Budongo was meant to raise money to support conservation and local community development. The BCFS was established in the 1990s by prof. Vernon Reynolds from the University of Oxford, England. This initiative was supported by the Jane Goodall Institute to include conservation educational programs for the adjacent communities.

The focus of the research is all about conserving chimpanzees, which were habituated for tourism. Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo started in 2009 with creation of Kaniyo-Pabidi and Busingiro Ecotourism sites. The centers occupy an area of 115 km with over 5 trails for birdinging including the Royal Mile Walk. The management of Budongo was also handed over to the National Forestry Authority. Uganda lodges were also given a concession to develop accommodation facilities for visitors.

budongo forest reserve

Budongo Eco lodge was established and offers 5 cabins with ensuite bathrooms, 4 dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. The lodge has a restaurant, visitor center, and craft shop. This has largely helped to increase the visitor’s average time spent at Budongo. In addition to chimpanzee tracking, Budongo offers a wide range of things to do including birding, biking, cultural tours, educational and research programs. These programs are fully integrated into the community to spread the benefits of tourism further.

There’s a number of mechanisms aimed at empowering local communities in the Bunyoro sub-region to gain knowledge of their environment. Some of the active ecotourism initiatives in and around Budongo include community biking trails and furniture and craft workshops. Village tours from the center offer opportunities to meet locals and learn about their culture. Many locals also get jobs as tour guides, rangers, porters, and waiters at Budongo Eco lodge.

These measures have helped to reduce encroachment on the forest thereby reducing poaching and deforestation. The stakeholders regularly meet to share knowledge and raise awareness about continued conservation through education and research. Today, the area of Budongo forest is known to be increasing. In the northern part, savanna bushwillows are being replaced by expanding forests. Tourism is now encouraging the locals to conserve Budongo forest.

Addressing the threats to chimpanzees

budongo forest reserve

Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of chimpanzees in Africa. However, the situation in Budongo forest is different with conservationists doing research on the food chimps eat including fruits and termite mounds to obtain minerals. Data available shows that there’s a gradual change in fruiting seasons. This change is reportedly caused by climate change. The feeding behaviour of primates is likely to change as they wander into the local farms to look for food.

There’s growing concern among those living on the boundary of Budongo forest about crop raiding by chimps. The BCFS in partnership with Earth Watch Institute are conducting more research to understand how to address threats to chimpanzees. Educational and Research expeditions are now available for those intending to help in collection of data about the primates. You can book a tour through the operator or the Earth Watch Institute.

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