Bwindi – What makes this place so special?
Bwindi is a hotbed of biodiversity, and it’s dense cover of over 400 species of herbs, vines, shrubs and plants is the source of the “impenetrable” description.
It’s also home to over 214 species of birds, 7 species of diurnal primates, 120 species of mammals and 202 species of butterflies – so be sure to pack your binoculars!
Bwindi’s famous mountain gorillas share their 321 square kilometer home with eight other globally threatened species, including common chimpanzees, l’Hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus l’hoesti), African elephants, African green broadbills, Grauer’s rush warbler, Chaplin’s flycatcher, African giant swallowtail, and cream-banded swallowtail.
The forest can be cold, especially in the morning and at night; the annual average temperature range is 7°C – 20°C with the coldest period being June and July. As well as warm clothing, wet weather gear is essential since Bwindi receives up to 2,390 mm of rain per year.
At the beginning, billions of years ago before anyone’s memories could record it,
the area was just steep mountains and narrow valleys.
Pushed into shape by the rising western edge of the great African Rift Valley, they were intersected by streams and rivers and waterways that could not permeate the land, and so flowed down the hills to form the lakes we now call Lake Edward, Lake Bunyoni and Lake Mutanda.
Because of the geology, the rain fell copiously, and the trees grew in abundance until the forest was formed; the lowlands were warm tropical forest, and the higher altitudes became a cooler, misty rainforest.
Caught between the peaks of Rwenzori to the north, the Virunga Volcanoes in the south, the Albertine Rift and the Great Rift to the east and west, the pristine primeval forest stood silent and ancient for millennia.
Then the animals came; over the centuries many thousands of species made their homes here, and formed one of the richest ecosystems on the planet.
When the world was covered in ice Bwindi was a refuge for many species that have remained to create one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. Today there are still over 120 species of mammals, 348 kinds of birds, 220 different butterflies, 163 species of trees and 104 types of ferns.
Migratory birds visit during the wet season, and roughly half of the world’s total mountain gorilla population lives here. It is the only forest in the world where both mountain gorillas and chimpanzees coexist.
And then the people came.
First were the Batwa tribe, existing in natural harmony within the forest, they lived and worked, raised their families and told their stories for generations; custodians of the land they existed alongside the trees, the soil and the mighty apes they shared the forest with; hunting, foraging and fishing, they took only what they needed for their daily lives.
The peoples who followed migrated slowly to the area over many years; some came because they were displaced from their own homelands, some came to escape the ravages of war, some to make a better life from the rich soil and temperate climate, some from mere curiosity of a bigger world.
They gave the forest the name Bwindi: meaning ‘Impenetrable’, or ‘Place of Darkness’.
In 1991, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its ecological uniqueness and natural beauty.
And so, this is Bwindi today; an area of incredible beauty, and many outstanding features and attributes, but not without its problems. There is poverty here in abundance, there is conflict between mankind and wildlife, and there are unresolved issues. There are questions with no answers. Someday, with luck, patience and understanding, we may find them.