Imported from africa.wmf 25/05/2008 18:01:19

Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve

Slightly off the beaten track, beautiful Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve in Western Uganda is a rich birding destination with over 460 recorded species, including the prehistoric-looking shoebill. Toro Semliki includes diverse habitats, from savannah grasslands to rainforest and riparian woodland. The lush green wetlands of the Semliki River extend all the way to Lake Albert. It is interesting to note the unusual fact that Toro Semliki supports both forest and savannah elephants.

The 542 km2 Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve in Western Uganda was first gazetted in 1926 to protect the Uganda kob that were found in large numbers in this rift valley setting. The dominant vegetation is open acacia-combretum woodland and grassy savannah, interspersed with patches of Borassus palm forest, significant belts of riparian woodland along the main watercourses, as well as some extensive swamps towards Lake Albert. On a clear day, the layered views framing Toro Semliki are spectacular: the sheer Rift Valley escarpment rises dramatically from the shores of Lake Albert outside the reserve and you can see the 2 500-metre-tall Blue Mountains in the Congo on the western horizon, and the mighty Rwenzoris to the southwest.

Morning, afternoon and night game drives along the three tracks that wind through the reserve could reward you with the unusual sight of both smaller forest elephants and larger savannah elephants, as well as a hybrid form from inter-breeding. The Toro Semliki plain contains the same key species as Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks, among them African buffalo, Uganda kob, waterbuck, warthog, bushbuck, giant forest hog and hippos. Leopards are common, and the lions previously hunted to near extinction here are gradually re-establishing themselves. After dark, you may catch sight of nocturnal species such as the white-tailed mongoose or even the elusive bushbaby. Primates include up to 70 chimpanzees in the Mugiri River forest, baboons, vervets, red-tailed monkeys and black-and-white colobus monkeys. Researchers from the University of Indiana have been studying chimpanzees in the riverine forest at Mugiri, and you may encounter chimps during a primate walk.

The rich bird population includes some 462 bird species, such as the red-necked falcon, black-billed barbet and the Abyssinian ground hornbill, and it is one of the best places in Uganda to see the shoebill. Head to nearby Lake Albert for a boat ride to search for shoebills, the African pygmy goose, blue-breasted and blue-cheeked bee-eaters, and the blue-headed coucal.

A highlight for birders is the 7km Nyaburogo Gorge hike, which traverses diverse habitats including savannah, woodland and forest biomes. Common sightings include the arrow-marked babbler, tropical boubou, black-headed bush-shrike and Lühder’s bush-shrike, as well as primates including black-and-white colobus, baboons, vervets and, occasionally, chimpanzees.