Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
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Natural Uganda Africa District Of Kabarole, Kasese And Bundibugyo

Covering an area of 99,600 ha, 70% of which exceeds an altitude of 2,500 m, the Rwenzori mountains comprise an extremely steep and rugged mountain range which includes three mountains: Albert, Alexandra and Africa's third highest peak, Margherita (5,109 m). The highest reaches of the mountains are covered by snow fields and glaciers which provide a permanent source of water for the surrounding areas. In the east, the park is contiguous with the Part National des Virunga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The mountains consist of ancient rocks which were extruded from the surrounding plains during the formation of the western rift valley. These Precambrian rocks have produced soils of low fertility, except on parts of the northern ridge where volcanic ash from the Fort Portal plateau was deposited.

The Rwenzori are well known for their unusual flora, which includes many species endemic to the Albertine Rift in the higher-altitude zones. Most significant are the giant heathers, ground-sells, ericas and lobelias of the tree heath and alpine zones. Vegetation depends largely on altitude, with five major zones being distinguishable: a broken montane forest zone occurs below 2,400m;a bamboo forest zone occurs (in pure stands in many places) up to an altitude of 3,000 m;a tree heath vegetation zone of giant heathers, frequently over 10m in height, extends up to 3,800m at the same altitude, although on better soils, a tangled undergrowth punctuated by a mixture of small trees predominates;and an Afro-alpine moorland zone upwards to 4,400m.

The park contains 89 species of bird, 4 species of diurnal primate, and 15 species of butterfly. Although none of these are unique to the Rwenzori, many are endemic to the Albertine Rift region, and a high level of subspecific endemism occurs, including the Rwenzori colobus monkey, hyrax and leopard. A recent study of invertebrate life forms listed 60 species in the alpine zone, 25 of which were new to science. This is indicative of a much more extensive fauna waiting to be discovered. Although low in number, the following globally threatened animals still occur in the Rwenzori: elephant, common chimpanzee and I'Hoests monkey.

The Rwenzori Mountains are the homelands of the Bakonjo and Baamba peoples. The Bakonjo are a Bantu-speaking people who have lived on the mountain for many generations, and whose culture is adapted to the steep slopes and climate of Rwenzori.

In 1910, the colonially imposed political boundary between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda divided the Bakonjo, Baamba and the related Banande people of the Congolese sector, who have never fitted comfortably into this artificial division. The Rwenzori area is home to some 300,000 Bakonjo people. No people currently live within the park, although cultivation is evident in many places up to its border. Traditional uses of forest resources were permitted under the former Forest Reserve designation, including the extraction of building materials, fibres, firewood and medicinal plants. These activities have mainly been carried out on a sustainable basis, and new agreements have been made respecting these harvesting rights. Illegal hunting of small game no longer continues, possibly due to a decline in animal populations. In the 1960s coffee, mountaineering and the Kalimbe mine brought prosperity and improved health services and infrastructure to the region. However, apart from agriculture, the park is the main source of income for the local communities.