To anybody who has an interest in natural history, Uganda’s most alluring feature is their forest, which forms the most easterly extension of the rainforest which blankets much of West Africa. The forests of western Uganda in particular support a wide variety of mammal and bird species which are not present elsewhere in eastern and southern Africa.
The accessibility of Uganda’s forests when compared with those in West Africa means that, practically speaking, Uganda is almost certainly the best place to see a wide variety of African forest animals in their natural habitat.
When it comes to more conventional game-viewing, Uganda is not a destination to bear comparison with Tanzania or Kenya, or for that matter the majority of countries in southern Africa. It is too small to have any reserves on the grand scale of the Selous and Serengeti in Tanzania, or the Luangwe, Chobe, Hwange and Kruger National Parks further south, while the heavy poaching which took place during years of civil war and political unrest has greatly reduced the population of most of the larger animals associated with savannah environments.
Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo National Parks support a good range of plains animals; and, if you are on a tight budget, the first two reserves are among the easiest and cheapest to visit independently anywhere in Africa.
Uganda’s list of gazette conservation areas contains ten national parks and several other wildlife reserves and forest reserves. National parks are accorded a higher status and conservation priority than other reserves, and from the visitors point of view they are generally better developed for tourism.
Bureaucratic considerations aside, the most meaningful way to categories Uganda’s various national park and reserves is on the basis of the type of habitat they protect. I will occasionally refer to some national park which protects a savannah habitat and supports typical plains animals.
The three montane national parks can in some circumstances be bracketed with forest reserves, as they all support montane and bamboo forests up to around 3,000m above sea level, though this habitat gives way to Afro-montane moorland at higher altitudes.
Although several other wildlife reserves are gazette in Uganda, most are merely adjuncts to one of the savannah national parks. The only one that has any tourist facilities at present in the Semuliki Valley Widlife Reserve (a discrete entity from the synonymous national park), though there are tentative plans to develop something low-key in the Kigezi Wildlife Reserve, which borders the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, as well as Bugungu Wildlife Reserve on the border of Murchison Falls and Katonga Wildlife Reserve north of Mbarara.