Murchison Falls National Park

Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park

March 18, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park, also known as Kabalega Falls, is a remarkable natural wonder nestled between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert divided by the Victoria Nile, 90 km from Masindi town. Murchison Falls Uganda’s Park is named after the magnificent Murchison Falls. These breathtaking falls are created where the longest river in the world plunges into a 7-meter gorge downstream to meet the Nile Delta River as of the 1950s. Murchison Falls is Uganda’s largest park, ranked 9th among the best birding destinations in Africa, safeguarding a wide range of wild African species. Numerous animal species, including bird species, reptiles, and mammals, swarm its banks, savannahs and forests. Uganda’s vegetation is characterised by riverine forest, woodland, and Savannah. This region is home to a wide variety of mammals, such as Bohor Reedbuck, Waterbuck, Oribi, Bushbuck, Uganda Kob, (antelopes), Cape Buffaloes, Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Giraffes, and Hartebeests. Some primates, including Chimpanzees, Blue Monkey, Patas Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey and other creatures of the rainforest, can be found at Rabongo Forest, which is located in the southeast of the park.

Location and size:

Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is situated in northwestern Uganda. It stretches inland from the shores of Lake Albert, following the course of the Victoria Nile, all the way up to the Karuma Falls. The park covers an impressive area of approximately 3,893 square kilometers (1,503 square miles), making it one of Uganda’s favourite and largest tourism destination.

Historical Exploration:

European explorers John Speke and James Grant were the first to visit the area in 1862. However, it was more thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence Baker in 1863. Baker named the falls Murchison Falls after the geologist Roderick Murchison, who was then the president of the Royal Geographical Society. Established in 1926, the Murchison Falls National Park spans more than 3,800 square kilometres and is named after the Murchison Falls that runs through it, splitting into the southern and northern banks. Murchison Falls produces a sound like thunder and a foggy view similar to rainfall as it rushes through 45 cliffs after passing through an 8-meter gorge. An attempt was made in the 1970s by a former Ugandan dictator to rename Murchison Falls National Park as Kabalega Falls National Park; however, the original name was restored upon his removal from office. Known for its high concentration of popular African creatures like buffaloes, crocodiles, lions, elephants, leopards, hyenas, baboons, warthogs, and several other antelope species,.

Natural Marvels:

The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which flows from east to west for a distance of about 115 kilometers (71 miles).

The Murchison Falls themselves are a breathtaking sight: the Nile waters rush through a narrow gorge, only 7 metres (23 feet) wide, before plunging dramatically down a 43-meter (141-foot) drop

Wildlife and Habitats:

Murchison Falls National Park boasts a diverse range of habitats, including savannah grasslands, woodlands, and forests.

Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of animals, such as Elephants, Lions, Giraffes, buffaloes, and hippos, along with numerous bird species.

The park is also home to the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and African buffalo.

Conservation Area:

Together with the adjacent Bugungu Wildlife Reserve (748 square kilometers) and the Karuma Wildlife Reserve (720 square kilometres), Murchison Falls National Park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA). The conservation area is a vital stronghold for protecting Uganda’s rich biodiversity.

Accessibility:

The entrance to Murchison Falls National Park lies near the Kibanda area. The driving distance from Masindi, the nearest large town, to the Kibanda area is approximately 72 kilometres (45 miles). From Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda, the park is about 283 kilometers (176 miles) northwest by road

Activities to explore in Murchison Falls National Park

Bird watching:

Because of its vast size and variety of habitats, the park is home to a rich avifauna, with a checklist that includes up to 460 bird species and 76 animal species. The bird’s checklist list is undoubtedly incomplete, and with more thorough research, more additions should be anticipated. The Bugungu and Karuma Falls Wildlife Reserves, in conjunction with the Murchison Falls National Park, comprise the Murchison Falls Protected Area.

The park supports 20 species from three non-qualifying biomes: 11 species from the Guinea-Congo Forests, 6 species from the Afro-tropical Highlands, and 3 from the Somali-Masai biome. River Nile

One of the densest populations of hippos and crocodiles in Africa may be found in the Nile, along with an astounding array of water birds, including the African Fish Eagle, African Skimmer, and the secretive Shoebill Stork, which is often spotted along the river’s edge. An enthusiastic birdwatcher’s highlight is a boat ride to the delta. Silver Bird, Blue-napped Mousebird, Grey Crowned Crane, Buff-bellied Warblers, Goliath Heron, Black-headed Batis, Black-headed Gonolek, Green-winged Pytilia, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Long-toed Plover, Slender-billed and Vitelline-masked Weaver, Saddle-billed Stork, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Spotted and Verreaux’s Eagle Owls, Long-tailed and Pennant-winged Nightjars, Standard-winged Nightjar, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Pel’s Fishing Owl are some of the additional bird species you should look for on a birding safari.

Sport Fishing

Anglers can enjoy the thrilling challenge of catching tiger fish and Nile perch in the river situated above and below the falls. Bring along your fishing gear. The park is renowned for its diverse wildlife and stunning landscapes.

Wildlife and Attractions:

Murchison Falls is home to 76 different mammal species, making it a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts.

Giraffes are among the well-known inhabitants of this national park.

Game Drives: Embark on thrilling game drives to spot animals like Lions, Elephants, and Lions. Leopards, Buffaloes, antelopes, primates, and many more.

Walking Safaris: Explore the wilderness on foot and get up close to nature.

River Cruises: Take a boat cruise along the Victoria Nile to witness the magnificent Murchison Falls.

Hiking Tours: Discover scenic trails and enjoy breathtaking views.

Wildlife Viewing: Observe diverse wildlife in their natural habitat.

Nature walks: They are always available at Kaniyo Pabidi, Rabongo Forest, and at the peak of the autumn. The Murchison Falls Conservation Area offers hiking opportunities for wildflower exploration.

At Paraa, a trail meanders through low slopes, valleys, and riverine forests. One can calmly and attentively observe vegetation, animals, and birds.

Oil Pipeline Development:

The Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, known for its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife, is now facing significant challenges due to the development of an oil pipeline.

As of 2022, the East African crude oil pipeline being constructed includes the development of 10 oil well pads, a feeder pipeline, and a refinery in and around Murchison Falls National Park. The EACOP is a 900-mile (1,450 km) long pipeline that will transport oil from the shores of Lake Albert (on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) through Tanzania to the port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean.  The project involves agreements between Uganda, Tanzania, Total, and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). It is estimated to deliver 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil starting in 2024 or 2025.

Impact on Local Communities:

Villagers in the Kijungu settlements initially welcomed the project, hoping for improved lives through land compensation. However, their optimism has turned to frustration as they face displacement and inadequate compensation. For instance, Adrin Tugume, who depends on her land for sustenance, has been asked to stay off the portion where the pipeline will be built. Edison Basheija, another affected resident, has refused the meagre compensation offered for his land, emphasising the importance of land for survival.

Environmental Concerns:

The pipeline will pass through the habitats of at-risk species and could jeopardise community water sources. There are concerns about air pollution and the intrusive, noisy construction process. This project comes at a time when global leaders are aiming to divest from fossil fuels.

Total’s Involvement:

Total, the French oil and gas company, plans to drill for oil in Murchison Falls National Park itself. The park is richly biodiverse, and the oil drilling poses a significant challenge to its ecosystem. Total has taken some measures, including limiting the number of wells and constructing underground oil and water injection lines.

While the project promises economic gains, it also raises critical questions about environmental impact, community well-being, and the delicate balance between development and conservation. Besides, Murchison Falls National Park stands as a testament to Uganda’s natural beauty, captivating visitors with its stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, and the awe-inspiring spectacle of the falls.