This park is located in the northwestern part of Uganda, sprawling inland from the shore of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile. It derives its name from the Murchison Falls water fall, where the mighty River Nile explodes through a narrow gorge and flows down to become a placid river whose banks are patronized by hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks, and buffaloes. The vegetation is mainly savannah, riverine forest and woodland. Wildlife includes; Lions, Leopards, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hartebeests, oribis, Uganda kobs, chimpanzees and many bird species including the rare shoebill.
This park is comprised of Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Refuge and Karuma Wildlife Refuge. This park is believed to be the oldest protected area in Uganda. It covers a total area of 3,893km2, with Bugungu Wildlife Refuge, Karuma Wildlife Refuge and Budongo Forest Reserve covering 510Km2, 678Km2, and 591Km2 respectively. While the National Park and the two wildlife reserves are under the auspices of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Murchison Falls Conservation Area, Budongo Forest Reserve is managed by the National Forest Association.
HISTORY OF THE PARK
Sleeping sickness decimated the inhabitants of an area of approximately 13,000Km2 during the period of 1907 and 1912. This paved way for the establishment of the Bunyoro Game Reserve in 1910, which is now part of the National Park in Masindi District. With time, the boundaries were extended into Gulu district, north of the river, and the resulting protected area became known as the Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve in 1928.
Established in 1932, Budongo Forest Reserve became the first commercial logging concession in Uganda and is one of the most intensively studied “working” Forest in the world to date.
The frontiers of this forest continued to expand over the next thirty years until their reached the current size of 825Km2. As the locals continued to lose hand, a lot of animosity was created as people never quite knew where the boundaries ended due to the frequent changes. Because of the reduction of hunting in the Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve, the animal population increased, which justified upgrading the reserve to Murchison Falls national Park. In 1952, the British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda. By the mid 1960’s, Murchison Falls had become the prime safari destination in all of East Africa, with well over 60,000 visitors annually.
When the sleeping sickness outbreak was put into check, people began to populate the areas around the new park. It was deemed prudent to establish a buffer zone of controlled-use lands around the park, to mitigate encroachment and poaching pressures. In 1963, the Karuma and Bugungu Controlled Hunting Areas, which were later upgraded to game Reserves, were established. Karuma was upgraded in 1964 while Bugungu in 1968. The establishment if the National parks Act led to the forced eviction of come of the villages and new moratoriums on hunting.
From the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, the increasing number of mammals came to an abrupt end as Amin and later Milton Obote’s armies started shooting animals either for target practice or for food. A combination of political mayhem and decreasing numbers of animals in the 1970’s and 80s, led to a sharp decline in the number of visitors. But the numbers are now steadily increasing due to political stability. Murchison falls is a park, which is surrounded by lands that are not suitable for farming, which has availed less chances of converting the protected area to farmland except in the Karuma Wild Reserve. This gives it a unique position. Since the population around here is still low, a pro-active and inclusive approach can be devised to involve the locals in wildlife management.
The park is a viable breeding population of many rare mammals and bird species which will continue to draw tourists and yet the populations are still well below the carrying capacity of the land. There has been a period of over 20 years of very low impact by animals on the ecosystem due to political mayhem. This means that the park will grow and at the same time create an excellent laboratory to study the resilience of faunal species after a rapid decline, as well as vegetation succession patterns.
This is necessary because almost no ecological research is being done in the conservation area currently.
HOW TO GET THERE
Byroad, the Nile river crossing at Paraa, in the centre of the park, is approximately 5hrs drive from Kampala (305km). Paraa is 85km from Masindi town by the direct route. A longer (135km) alternative route passes through Budongo forest and enjoys spectacular views across Lake Albert from the rift valley escarpment above Butiaba. Paraa can also be approached from the north, via Chobe Gate near Karuma Falls and Tangi Gate near Pakwach (25km to Paraa), and Wankwar Gate near Purongo. A vehicle ferry crosses the Nile at Paraa. This operates hourly between 07.00 and 19.00 with the exception of 13.00. Murchison can also be reached by air. Charter flights can land at airstrips north of the Nile at Pakuba (19kms from Paraa) and south at Bugungu (13kms from Paraa).