In January, my wife and I traveled to Uganda and our first trip to Africa. Our small travel group from the Chattahoochee Nature Center was led by a wonderful local team from Wilderness Inquiry, a partner organization.
We spent an amazing 12 days traveling 1000+ miles overland visiting four national parks and countless other stops along the way. Each stop held a new surprise: remarkable animals, beautiful people, and breathtaking vistas–from acacia savannas to lush tropical rainforests!
The biodiversity of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
A highlight of the trip was our visit to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Located near the Democratic Republic of Congo border, the 130 square mile reserve was established in 1942, upgraded to a national park in 1991, and recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. The Bwindi rainforest rises from 4,000 feet along the Munyanga River in the Western Rift Valley to the ridge of the Rushurra Hills which top out at 8,000 feet and home to over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas–approximately 300.
The forest, one of the richest and most diverse in Africa, showcases 1,000 species of flowering plants, 200 species of trees, 350 species of birds, and more than 300 butterflies. It also shelters and sustains nine species of primates including: gorillas, chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, black and white colobus, red colobus, olive baboon, red-tailed monkey and grey-cheeked mangabey.
The park is under threat from a variety of forces including poaching, Illegal animal trade, and agriculture. Over the past 50 years much of Uganda’s rainforest has been cleared to make way for vast tea plantations that now cover miles of rolling hillside once occupied by enormous ficus trees and hundreds of other species.
What impressed me most: Children connected to nature
What impressed me the most about our visit? The many ways the community had pulled together to elevate the awareness and importance of these truly remarkable natural treasures. Where the conservation focus had once concentrated solely on saving the gorillas, the presence of the gorilla and the international attention it has drawn is now serving a much greater need by saving and protecting the remaining forest and the immense diversity of unique life it sustains.
Much of this enthusiasm for preserving Uganda’s heritage could be seen and heard from the hundreds of school children we had the privilege of meeting. In addition to the typical classroom curriculum, students in Bwindi spend a large part of their class time outdoors exploring nature and engaging groups like ours as park ambassadors. Students share their stories, song, dance, and art about the rainforest and the marvelous creatures it contains. Every student creates unique rainforest-themed paper and ink pictures that are sold to support the schools and pay for the most basic of supplies like pencils and paper.
The idea of connecting people with nature is not exclusive to Wilderness Inquiry and the Chattahoochee Nature Center. It’s seen around the world with some of the most compelling messages and stories about protecting our natural world for the next generation coming from children not unlike those that visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center every day.
I encourage you to support gorilla conservation and share the adventure with Wilderness Inquiry’s world-class guides on the Uganda Safari and Gorilla Tracking trip this July 30–August 8, 2017, or two trips in 2018.