Research and conservation activities
The ecology of the majority of fruit-feeding butterfly species are poorly understood and the two most common fruit-feeding butterflies at Semuliki (Bebearia laetitioides and Bebearia brunhilda) have yet to have their host plants identified. The collecting of butterfly eggs to hatch and rear as caterpillars to pupation is a priority so that the identification and mapping of the shrubs or trees that comprise the early part of their life cycle can be undertaken.
There are 26 fig tree species that have been identified within the park which contribute to the fruit fall that the adult butterflies consume. A large number of butterfly species making up the assemblage show a clumped distribution and it would be productive to understand Ficus spp. distribution within the transect sampling area and to identify any correlation between fruiting tree distribution and butterfly abundance between transects and traps.
The two long-term research transects used are around 9 km distant from each other in habitat that appears similar. However, some species commonly found at one sampling transect are not found at the other, Bebearia cocalia - the third most abundant fruit-feeding butterfly is a good example being primarily absent from one sampled site. This could possibly be due to the prevalence of one of their host plants, the palm Phoenix reclinata being more common at one site than the other. The creation of forest plots at each site would provide some understanding of palm distribution.
The grassland patches within Semuliki which are surrounded by forest habitat can provide an indicator on how far the grassland/forest edge effect penetrates within the forest and impacts on the presence of forest-restricted butterflies. Research at Semuliki has indicated that only one species of Limenitidinae, Bebearia cocalia was trapped or identified in the grassland up to 200 m from the forest edge. Sampling at distances from the forest edge into the grassland and also into the forest can identify compositional differences in assemblage make-up. This is relevant with the continuing expansion of the grassland area at Semuliki which is sometimes controlled by annual burning.
Evaluating the potential impact of climate change on the future distribution of some of these species is critical. The options for migration for these species are reduced due to the patchiness of the surrounding forest habitat, unsuitability of the adjacent savannah habitat for migration and the proximity of the Rwenzori mountain range in reducing the ability to migrate.
Other options are to enjoy photographing butterflies in their natural habitat. Photographing butterflies from this assemblage is easy due to their behaviour of being attracted to fruit bait which has been fermented and left in bowls within traps. Depending on the season there can be hundreds flying around in the vicinity of the bait traps (see youtube video).
There are still new species to be recorded at Semuliki and one can be guided with a butterfly net or taken to the sampling traps to photograph species to be later identified at the park verandah from the extensive guide book collection deposited at Semuliki. This will contribute hopefully to adding to the ever-growing species list at Semuliki National Park.
Semuliki National Park fauna
There are over 60 mammal species recorded. Just recently the Golden cat (Caracal aurata) was recorded for the first time from camera traps that were distributed throughout the park. This was instigated by a project co-ordinated by Chester Zoo which was looking for the presence of Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), which appear to have been eradicated from the park in the 1970s. Leopard (Panthera pardis) are present as well as African Forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and Forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) all having been recorded close to the Bumaga accommodation site. There are at least 14 species of primate including the Eastern chimpanzee subspecies (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi) which have not been habituated and Prince Demidoff's bushbaby (Galagoides demidovii). In East Africa, the subspecies Eastern Red colobus monkey (Procolobus rufomitratus ellioti) is only found at Semuliki and is classified as threatened. Dent's Mona monkey (Cercopithecus denti) is also recorded and this is only one of two sites in East Africa where it can be found. Red-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius) and Black and White colobus (Colobus guereza) are always seen in and around the accommodation area. Antelope species includes the subspecies Uganda kob (Kobus kob thomasi) which can be frequently seen in the savannah patches of the park along with buffalo. Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) and the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) are found along the Semliki River. Other interesting rarities are the Red River hog (Potamochoerus porcus), Giant hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) and 2 species of pangolin; White-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and Giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea).
There are approximately 440 species of birds, the most species of any protected area in Uganda. There are nearly 50 Guineo-Congolian forest specialist species present together with nearly 40 species that are found in only a few other sites in Uganda. Highlights include 9 species of hornbills and 5 species endemic to the Albertine Rift hotspot.
Bumaga accommodation site is found inside the park boundary, adjacent to the forest edge. It comprises a number of bandas which can accommodate up to 2 people. There is also a large campsite. The Vanilla Hotel at nearby Bundibugyo is also available and is very comfortable and this lies at an impressive location at the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountain range.
Food is prepared on-site with local ingredients by the impressive full-time chef, Deus Twesigomwe, who lives at Bumaga. There is a large two-storey verandah where food is served and this overlooks the forest and is a secluded place to watch the sun go down.
There are 4 distinct ethnic groups which populate the area: the Batuku which are primarily pastoralists living within the savannah of the Semliki Valley; the Batwa, the original indigenous tribe of Bwamba Forest who were once forest hunter-gatherers but still have access to the park and harvest honey from bee-hives; the Bakonjo are agriculturists from the mountains and the Bamba are also agriculturists but of the plains. Joachim who works with the project can provide tours of local life and can provide accommodation in his house which can provide an insight into local community life.
Market days are on Monday and Thursday and are held at Bundimasoli, a few minutes drive from Bumaga, and here is where you can purchase local seasonal produce. There is also a small supermarket at Bundimasoli and Bundibugyo. For a more extensive selection, purchases at Fort Portal before arriving at Semuliki is usually advised.
A new community organisation which can be highly recommended is run by Justice and Joachim and is called Semuliki and Western Rwenzori Community Tours. This organisation encompasses a number of specialised activities together with the option of participating in daily community life. Further details are found from their website www.sewerweco.com.
Other activities nearby and elsewhere in Uganda include trekking to some locally venerated bat caves located in the Rwenzori foothills; visit the bridge at the DRC border which crosses the Lamia river, walk or take a motorbike to the Semliki River or undertake the Semuliki National Park Batwa Trail. You can journey through the old forest road that goes over the Rwenzori foothills and cuts through the North Rwenzori Forest Reserve.
Elsewhere if extending your trip there are options to visit the semi-habituated chimpanzees at Toro-Semliki Reserve or the Shoebills at Lake Albert. Nearby Kibale National Park has habituated chimpanzees which have been researched for over 20 years; the mountain gorillas at Mgahinga or Bwindi National Park; trek to Mount Stanley and Margherita Peak (5119 m) of the Rwenzori Mountain Range and the spectacular whitewater rafting down the Nile at Jinja. Recommended parks to visit are Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elisabeth National Park.