Western Uganda: How Kibale Forest National Park Is Boosting Tourism and Impacting Local Communities

Aaron Ainomugisha,    

Kibale Forest National Park

Kibale Forest National Park(Photo credit: Aaron Ainomugisha,)

Located in Kamwenge district western Uganda, Kibale forest national park has created testimonies in the lives of many locals around it as it impacts their livelihoods and boosts tourism.

Kibale national park which was gazetted in 1932 and formally established in 1993, commonly known as “home of chimps and primate capital of the world”, is a right destination for chimpanzee tracking, birding, cultural tours to meet native tribes like Batooro and other tourist attractions including 71 mammal species, 13 primates and 372 bird species in the most evergreen rainforest covering 766 square kilometres.

The national park is situated about 346km from the capital Kampala, about a 5-hour drive from Kampala on Fort Portal road, about 23km southeast of Fort Portal city, touching Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Kabarole and Kasese districts. It has impacted local communities, as locals graze their animals and cultivate around the park.

Entry fees to Kibale national park range from USD 30-40 if foreign residents, and UGX 20,000-30,000 for the East African citizens. Accommodation can cost you up to USD1,200.

“We cannot enter the park without permission. I know there are some bad people who enter illegally, but that is not good. Our gardens are sometimes destroyed by wild animals, but when they are not destroyed, we harvest big,” one of the locals (female).

(Photo credit: Aaron Ainomugisha,)

Over 1000 locals are cultivating around the park, and others are earning a lot from local tourism. Activities by locals around Kibale national park include crop growing especially tea, bee keeping, livestock rearing, local tourism like culture, and other activities earning them a living.

Kibale National Park is one of the 10 national parks managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA, a government agency responsible for the management and protection of Wildlife in and outside protected areas, supervised by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, managing 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, 5 community wildlife management areas, and 13 wildlife sanctuaries.  All these display the best wildlife, landscapes, tropical forests and extensive variety of flora and fauna.

Other parks include Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley, Mount Elgon, Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki, Mgahinga Gorilla, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks.

Kibale has however become a priority for tight security deployment by the Uganda People’s Defence Force-UPDF since the Allied Democratic Forces-ADF rebels recently crossed from DR Congo and attacked locals in Kamwenge district. The commander of the attackers has since been killed by UPDF Commandos, as operations continue to ensure total security and safety for locals and tourists.

EXPERIENCE IN KIBALE NATIONAL PARK:

On December 28, 2023, Mr. Maurice Mugisha, a high-profile Ugandan posted on his Twitter /X account; “8.00AM. Full house in Kibale National Park this morning. Glad to see hundreds of tourists in the park despite the advisories.”  Kibale forest national park is located in Kamwenge district, western Uganda.

Mugisha’s post sparked mixed reactions, with tourism enthusiasts calling for more media coverage and publicity of Uganda’s booming tourism, streamlining the communication and information systems by national communicators, enabling effective and efficient communication between tourists and other stakeholders, tight security for tourists’ safety, consistency, and other reactions.

Amos Wekesa (a tourism expert and investor) – This is beautiful, it’s just been tough but now we need consistency. National communicators need to engage embassies as the army deals with the problem.

Students researchers om a visit to Kibale Forest National Park-(Photo credit Aaron Ainomugisha,)

Sir Philemon Bwarenga – This is the true congestion I would love to see all year round in Bwindi, Kibale, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison, Mburo, Kidepo & all conservation areas of the land & I can’t say it’s possible but it’s beyond possible with proper communication from our reporters.

Grace Musiimenta – Thank you  @MauriceMugisha  . Uganda is still the best tourism destination across the world. #VisitUganda.

Monica Rubombora – This is a beautiful site to see, Maurice! It was noticeably more quiet on the FP side this festive season, marked by several cancellations. I’m glad Kibale has defied all the negativity & has triumphed against all expectations!” “A rising tide lifts all boats!” We all win!

Shuaa Safaris Limited – We’ve said before on this platform that when one sector of the economy thrives, the benefits are directly or indirectly felt by other sectors of the economy. If we had this traffic in all the national parks, we would all laugh all the way to the bank.

Tourist guides and victors (Photo credit: Aaron Ainomugisha,)

Tourism as Uganda’s top foreign exchange earner:

September 2023 records indicate that tourism is among Uganda’s three leading foreign exchange earners, competing gold and coffee. The Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) also confirms that a total of 1,542,620 foreign tourists visited Uganda in 2019, and Uganda earned about $1.6 billion (Ugx5.93 trillion) from these visitors.

The sector is steadily recovering from the COVID-19 shock, and $736 million was earned from 814,509 tourists in 2022. Uganda now targets $5.2b earnings from tourism annually by 2028.

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