Budongo forest reserve is the largest forest reserve with an area coverage of about 826 square Kilometres found in Masindi District and it also takes part of the Murchison falls national park. The forest is divided into three major tourism sites that is Kaniyo Pabidi, Busingiro and Sonso sections. There are 4 main rivers flowing through Budongo forest into the Lake Albert and they include River Kamirambwa, River Waisoke, River Siba and River Sonso.

Budongo forest reserve is best known as home to a large population of chimpanzees and other 9 primates species, also has about 24 mammals, 300 butterflies and has mahogany trees tree species that can go grow up to about 85 meters long and 21 meters in diameter. Apart from Mahogany trees, there are over 464 other tree species. Budongo forest reserve is also a birders haven with over 350 bird species such as the African Emerald Cuckoo, African Pied, African Shrike Flycatcher, Black and White Casqued Hornbills, Black-headed Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-throated Roller, Brown Twinspot, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Cassin’s Honeyguide, Cassin’s Spinetail, Chestnut Crowned Eremomera, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Crested Malimbe, Crowned Eagle, Dusky long-tailed Cuckoo, Forest Robin, Grey-headed Sunbird, Guinea Congo forest Biome, just to mention a few.

Chimp Tracking in Budongo forest
Chimp Tracking in Budongo forest

History of Chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest

Budongo forest reserve is one of the few remaining strongholds for chimpanzees in Uganda.  The first person to study chimpanzees in Budongo was Vernon Reynolds. He was along with Adriaan Kortlandt and Jane Goodall the first primatologists to do extensive studies of chimpanzees in their natural habitat. As Uganda entered a period of political uncertainty and civil wars between 1972 and 1986, Vermon left. He returned in 1990 to find the chimpanzee population severely disseminated due to uncontrolled poaching. He found out that infant chimps were often sold to collectors outside Africa after their mothers had been shot dead. The chimp population decreased so much that by 1995, less than 55 individuals were recorded in the forest. A smaller population of chimpanzees have been habituated and opened to tourism. Visitors can trek the chimpanzees and other primates such as Olive baboons, Blue Monkeys, Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys, Red-tailed Monkeys, Grey-cheeked Mangabeys and Blue Monkeys. Being part of the wider Murchison falls national park conservation area, visitors can also spot large mammals like Buffaloes, Lions, Elephants and Leopards.

Facts about Chimpanzees

Chimpanzee trekking being the main tourist attraction in Bugondo forest reserve, has over 600 chimpanzees that inhabit in the forest. These chimpanzees are similar to those of Kibale forest national park;

  • They are intelligent creatures sharing 98% of the human being DNA and eat a variety of foods including plants and fruits.
  • Fully grown male chimpanzees weigh up to 70 kilograms while females may reach 50 Kilograms.
  • Chimpanzees can live up to 60 years in captivity.
  • Unlike males, female chimpanzees usually leave the community they were born in once they reach adolescence.
  • Like humans, chimpanzees easily adapt to different environments and learn to use new tools. Because of this, chimpanzee communities differ in overall behaviour depending on where they live.

A group researchers started work in the forest with funding from the Edinburgh Zoo, RZSS and other sources.  The researchers initiated a project (The Budongo Forest Project) which was later renamed Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS). BCFS combines conservation and research while also ensuring sustainable management of the forest reserve. BCFS encountered many challenges once work started. Like many of the other forest reserves in Uganda, Budongo forest had been encroached on by communities surrounding it. The forest margins were being used for farming while poachers put snares to trap forest antelopes and small rodents. Several chimpanzees had their hands and limbs severally mutilated by snares left behind by poachers. The population of Mahagony (a favourite hideout for the chimps) trees had reduced greatly as individuals cut them down for timber.

The project embarked on several activities which include monitoring the health of the chimps and observing behavioural data on a daily basis. The project has also helped habituate over 300 chimps while also working with communities living close to the forest to discourage them from setting dangerous snares in the forest. The project ensures that the proceeds from Eco-tourism are shared with the local community. To stop poaching for forest creatures, hunters are given goats as an alternative source of income and livelihood. These ex-poachers voluntarily help the BCFS team identity where they laid their last snares. Because of the good work of the project, the overall population of chimpanzees have increased dramatically. Poaching chimpanzees for pets has virtually been stopped.

Chimp Tracking in Budongo forest
Chimp Tracking in Budongo forest

Chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest

Budongo forest reserve is one of the best places to track chimpanzees in Uganda. Chimpanzee trekking is the main activity that draws tourists to the forest. Most of the tracking takes place at Kaniyo Pabidi which is located south of the Murchison Falls National Park.

Chimpanzee trekking in Budongo usually starts with briefing from the information Centre at the Budongo Eco Lodge. The forest has well established trails to allow visitors spot the chimps as well as other smaller primates and birds. Chimpanzee trekking is done in two shifts that is morning and afternoon. The Chimpanzee communities roam very close to the Budongo Eco lodge on most days of the year. However, during certain periods of the year, they wander way in search of fruits and water. During these periods of food scarcity, finding them is not always guaranteed. The success rate of seeing chimpanzees in this forest is very high. For better sights of these primates, visitors are recommended to travel during the months between December and January. Budongo forest experiences two rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season is between March to May and September to November. The main dry season is between December and February then from June to August.

Chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest lasts for an average of about 2-5 hours. After locating the chimpanzees, visitors are only allowed one hour with them. In order to participate in the chimpanzee trekking exercise, one needs to be in good health and free from diseases because chimpanzees easily contract human diseases. One also needs to be at least 15 years of age to track chimpanzees. The cost of chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest reserve is US$90. For the best chimpanzee trekking experience, one need good hiking boots, hand gloves, long sleeved shits/pants, sun glasses and a hat.

Other activities in Budongo forest reserve

Birdwatching experience

Budongo forest is one of the best places for birdwatching in Uganda. With the help of experienced Guides, birders can choose to go for a full or half day of birdwatching. The Royal Mile found within the Busingiro area is arguably the best place to go if you want to see most of the species in a day. The Royal mile extends from the main research station up to a forestry college nearby. The rare species to look out for are the Guinea Congo forest-Biome, Pitta reichenowi, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Illadopsis puveli and Parmoptila woodhousei. At the end of the day you should have spotted at least half of the about 360 species found in the forest area.

Chimpanzee trekking

Nature Walk tours 

In the company of armed rangers, tourists can go for nature walks deep in the forest. Visiting the beautiful Kaniyo pabidi eco-tourism Centre is highly recommended. The Centre has tall Mahagony trees that are over 70 years old. During the nature walks, you will encounter a variety of wild creatures that come to lick salt from fallen trees. After seeing enough of the forest, you can also venture out to the savannah plains and woodlands that connect to the plains of Murchison Falls National Park. Here you might see some of the larger mammals like buffaloes, elephants, lions and even leopards. In fact, these large mammals visit the forest itself frequently. You will always be in the company of armed rangers for your protection. Do not forget to carry drinking water or packed lunch.

Safari in Murchison falls national park

Visit Murchison Falls National Park for activities like visiting the top of the falls, game viewing, boat cruises and a cultural visit to the Boomu Women’s Group to see how life goes by in a rural African village. By the end of your tour of Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo forest and the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, you would have spotted all the big 5 mammals.

How to access Budongo Forest Reserve

Budongo forest is found in North-western Uganda. It takes 3 hours to reach the reserve from Kampala. From Kampala, one needs to first drive to Masindi town before heading to the forest reserve. Entrance to Budongo Forest reserve costs US$40 per person.

Accommodation in Budongo Forest Reserve

Visitors to Budongo forest reserve have plenty of options for accommodation however choice of accommodation depends on one’s budget. The lodges and hotels can be got within the forest reserve, Masindi town or further into the Murchison Falls National Park. For those who love outdoor camping, it can be arranged within the reserve.  The Research Centre in Budongo forest also offers simple rooms at affordable rates

Budongo Eco lodge

Budongo Eco Lodge is a budget lodge built within the Budongo forest reserve. The lodge is 30 km away from the town of Masindi and offers a perfect atmosphere for relaxation and in a tranquil environment. Budongo Eco lodge offers comfortable special cabins with balconies and also dormitory rooms. The dorm rooms are spacious and designed to be used by large groups of tourists. The lodge has a restaurant where residents can order for both local and international foods. While at the lodge you can participate in activities like chimpanzee trekking, birdwatching, chimpanzee habituation experience and nature walks. Those who are interested in local souvenir can go to the Visitor Centre and purchase locally made art pieces and gifts.

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