White Nile River Basin Expedition – Bwindi NF

March 29, 2010

Welcome to #5 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

gorillas

Mountain gorilla chewing on a vine

Date: Mon–Wed, 29–31 March 2010 /Entry 5
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest

Today I arrive at Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in the southwest corner of Uganda for a couple days. This World Heritage Site is a dense rainforest still intact from the last ice age. On these Albertine Rift Valley ridges, with elevations ranging from 3,805 to 8,553 feet (1160–2607 m), there are many gorges, streams and waterfalls, habitat to 90 mammal species, 100 fern species and 23 endemic forest bird species. The world-renowned highlight of this forest is its relatively large population of mountain gorillas. Bwindi has more than half of the world’s remaining population (about 330 of 600) of this endangered species. What must they think of the human footprint?

From the field, 29 March: It’s the rainy season here in this 40 mile long chain of volcanoes. Mist hangs over the montane forest ecosystem, which include bamboo forests and hagenia-hypericum woodlands. The flight here from Mburo NP over “the Switzerland of Africa” revealed lush green farmland made fertile by abundant rain and rich volcanic soil. First – bananas, bananas, bananas, and then on arrival in Kyonza we noted tea plantations, similar to land cover around the perimeter of Kenya’s Mau Forest. Tomorrow we will visit the local Bwindi Community Micro Hydro Power Project on the Munyga River and trek to see the gorillas here in the 25,000 years old Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We are hoping all of today’s rain will mean clear skies for tomorrow, but we are told it rains daily here.

1 April: Yesterday I spent 9 hours in a gruelling chase up and down vine-filled, muddy ravines in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to finally find the group of 18 gorillas. Interesting to learn the “value” of both this tropical forest and the gorillas. The forest is the faucet of the White Nile River Basin. In Rwanda, 80% of the country’s water supply comes from the forests the mountain gorillas inhabit. Without the tourism dollars of those wanting to see these primates, the forest would be cut down to make room for more crop fields. So the gorilla’s presence is a great conservation tool for the forests. As well, every night each group of gorillas settles down in separate new “nests” after breaking branches and clearing an open spot. This allows cleared space for new forest vegetation to grow. I think of the parallel role of wolves in the upper reaches of the Mississippi River Basin where their presence helps keep elk away from riverine vegetation, as NWNL documented a year ago.

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