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Introduction to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

The Virungas viewed from top of Muhabura (Photo by Maryke Gray, IGCP)

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park  (MGNP),most famous for its exciting gorilla safari activities, is situated amongst the Virunga Mountains in the extreme southwest of Uganda, and includes sections of three of the Bufumbira volcanoes; Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m). The Park is about 10 km south of Kisoro and is bordered to the south by the Republic of Rwanda and to the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo. Each of these countries protects its own portion of the Virungas, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. The three parks together form the 434-sq. km. 'Virunga Conservation Area' or VCA. Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the VCA. The entire Park is in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District.

From afar, the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and beckon you as you approach. When you reach the park you can get a great overview of the area by walking up the viewpoint, just 15 minutes from Ntebeko Gate.

Mgahinga Park has great biological importance because throughout the climatic changes of the Pleistocene ice ages, mountains such as these provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals, which moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler. The Virungas are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.

The main ethnic groups are Bafumbira and Batwa. The Bafumbira are agriculturists while the Batwa were previously forest dwellers dependent mainly on hunting and gathering. The Batwa started moving out the MGNP in the 1930s when the forest was gazetted as forest and game reserves and occupation and hunting were formally banned. They began spending more time as share-croppers and labourers on their neighbours' farms but still had access to many forest resources and the forest continued to be  economically and culturally important to them before the areas were gazetted as parks. Like Bwindi, the human population density of the neighbouring areas is among the highest in Africa with up to 600 people per square kilometer.

In an effort to conserve the worldlife in MGNP, the local communities have a share on the revenue generated from park entrance fees such as gorilla trekking permits, community walk fees, etc.

In 1996, a multiple use zone was identified stretching 500 m from the park boundary, within which communities harvest bamboo rhizomes for planting outside the park, collect water, keep beehives, and harvest spear grass and medicinal plants.