Africa’s Feature Forests, Part One: Kibale National Park, Uganda
I was designed for the great plains of Africa – its more than just my job. I am reminded every time I land on the airstrip, any airstrip, and take my first breath. Every pore suddenly achieves full aperture, every muscle settles back into comfortable repose. It is like removing a pesky pebble from your sandal after tolerating it for too long. Suddenly, finally, everything is okay again.
While I’ve spent more days on the plains than I care to count, I’ve only recently become enchanted with Africa’s great forests. I’ve visited a few in my time – Tsitsikamma in South Africa and Mahale Mountains in Tanzania among the most memorable. But just recently I was bowled over by the sheer density and beauty of Kibale Forest in Uganda, a place that is likely not even on your radar. Yet.
Driving northwest from Kampala to Fort Portal, the land rises up and soon becomes carpeted with tea. Then a swath of dense rain forest takes over, a giant swath, more than 750 square kilometres of it, stretching all the way down to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Surrounding the forest, fertile volcanic soil supports farming operations of every scale. Inside the forest you will find over 350 bird species and 13 different primate species, including the habituated chimpanzees. Like so many before us, we were here for the chimpanzees. There is probably no better place to see them in all of Africa.
After a thoughtful and informative briefing at the welcome centre, we were soon under the forest canopy, weaving through dense foliage with no evident footpaths in sight. The environment reminded me of an indoor swimming pool: an disorienting cocoon of humid air that seems to amplify, muffle and echo sound all at once. Chimpanzees hooted and thumped giant root systems like drums, Colobus monkeys streaked overhead, a hundred and one birds called back & forth. I’m not sure I’ve ever explored a place more brimming with life.
Africa: come for the plains, stay for the forests. I’m now officially hooked, and on my next trip am planning a visit to the great Baiis, or forests clearings, of the Congo.
Greg is most at home on the African plains. Shoot him an email and let him know where you feel most at home.