Lake Mburo National park is located in western Uganda and it’s shared by three district of Kiruhura, Mbarara and Isingiro Districts. The park is situated about 30 kilometers by road, east of Mbarara, the largest city in the sub-region. The location of the park is approximately 240 kilometers or150 mi, by road, west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. The coordinates of the park are: 00 36S, 30 57E and it covers an approximated area of 370 square kilometers.
The famous Lake Mburo was originally gazetted in 1933 as a Controlled Hunting Area and later upgraded to a Game Reserve in the year 1963. In spite of the fact that the area around Lake Mburo was gazzatted game reserve, the local Banyankole Bahima residents who are the traditional inhabitants of the area around Mburo continued to graze their long horned cattle in the Reserve until it was upgraded to National Park status in 1983. The Obote government’s decision to upgrade the Park was reportedly in part intended to weaken the Banyankole, who supported anti-Obote rebels. It came at the time of the Operation Bonanza massacre of 300,000. As the evicted pastoralists were not compensated for lost grazing land or assisted with resettling, many remained hostile to the Park’s formation. The rangeland outside the park was subsequently subdivided into small ranges and subsistence farming plots.
In 1985 the second Obote regime fell and the previous residents of Lake Mburo re-occupied the Park’s land, expelling park staff, destroying infrastructure and annihilating wildlife. Less than half of the Park’s original land area was eventually re-gazetted by the NRM government in 1986.
Lake Mburo national park is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks and underlain by ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back more than 500 million years. It is home to 350 bird species as well as zebra, impala, eland, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, leopard, hippo, hyena, topi and reedbuck.
Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders. Once covered by open savanna, Lake Mburo National Park now contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line many lakes.
The Park’s varied habitats support 68 mammal species. Rarities include impala, which, in Uganda, only lives in Lake Mburo, and Burchell’s zebra and eland which are found only here and in Kidepo. Other species include warthog, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck and reedbuck. Leopard and hyena are also present while crocodile and over 300 hippos are found in the lake. Previously extinct in the park, lions have recently been sighted again.
The Park is home to an estimated number of around 350 bird species that have been recorded to date. Some of these bird species include the Red-faced Barbet, only seen in Lake Mburo, the endemic African Finfoot and the rare Shoebill if found in the swampy areas of Lake Mburo national park. Other unique species found within this protected area are the Brown-chested Lapwing, the Papyrus Yellow Warbler as well as Saddle-billed Stork, African-wattled Lapwing, African Scops Owl, White-winged Warbler and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. Acacia woodland bird species are especially well represented, while forest species may be found in Rubanga forest. These include Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Hairy-breasted Barbet and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, among others.
Lake Mburo National Park is perfectly located in the traditional hunting grounds of the Banyankole -Bahima cattle keepers who utilized the land for grazing their Ankole long horned cattle and hunting wildlife . The geographical landscapes extending from the stretched valleys to the ancient Precambrian rocks, rolling hills like Kazuma, and historical lakes like Mburo have got a cultural attachment to the local people that live in the sounding areas to the park. Following the establishment of the park in 1983, the local people who were settling in the park evicted from the area and they settled in the nearby areas and since then, their local traditions, beliefs are still alive including the music dance and drama, unique long horned Ankole cattle, arts and crafts, values and customs and protected landscapes. Currently, the Enyemebwa cultural center is found on the park margin presenting the Hima heritage and conserving the beauty of Ankole long horned cattle.
Lake Mburo is a natural haven for fauna and flora. The bank teems with animals and birds. Crocodiles and hippopotami are permanent residents, and buffalos come to drink during the dry season. The wide variety of resident birds includes Malachite Kingfishers, Pied Kingfishers, African Fish Eagles, Rufous Long-tailed Starlings, Blue-headed Weavers, Green-necked Doves, Hammerkops, Pelicans, Herons, Cormorants and even rare Shoebills.
Though small, this tract of forest on the western side of Lake Mburo provides a taste of tropical high forest with a closed canopy and a viewing platform for visitors. It is home to a variety of forest birds; commoner species include the Harrier Hawk, Green Pigeon, Narina Trogon, Grey-backed Cameroptera and Double-toothed Barbet. Rubanga can be explored with a ranger guide.
The best birding spots in Lake Mburo National Park include the swampy valleys of Warukiri and Miriti, and the roadsides between Rwonyo camp and the jetty. There are also ideally-situated viewing platforms at the salt lick, in Miriti Valley, and in Rubanga Forest. Species observed at these locations include the Rufous-bellied Heron, Bateleur, Coqui Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-bellied Bustard, Brown-chested Lapwing, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Brown Parrot, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Scimitar bill, White-headed Barbet, Red-faced Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Long-tailed Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-winged Tit and Finfoot among others.
Rubanga Forest can be visited using a vehicle or on foot. This is a real draw for keen birders, and prior arrangement should be made with the warden. The rare Red-faced Barbet – only seen in Lake Mburo National Park – is one of the of the forest’s featured species.
Game Drives in Lake Mburo
The network of game tracks in the east of the park passes a variety of landscape features; acacia woodland, wetlands, grassy hillsides, rock outcrops and seasonally flooded valley floors. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to roam the park in search of wildlife. An alternative view of the park, hopefully including sightings of animals rarely seen during the day, is provided by guided night drives. These start between 6.30-7pm and last two to three hours.
Zebra tracks. The Zebra track offers impressive views of Burchell’s Zebra alongside other species like bushbucks, oribi and reedbucks. The track connects to Ruroko track junction traverses through the wetland and thick acacia woodland marked by olive trees and eurphorbia species. The adjoining Ruroko track takes you the rocky out crops with opportunities to spot a Klipspringer.
The Kazuma track. This track passes through grassland dotted with wood species where the black-bellied bustards are common sightings. You climb the splendid Kazuma hill which offers the great scenic views of Lake Mburo National Park and beyond considering its altitude. The wild game tend to graze on the lower layers of the hill while the open hill top allows you to explore all the five lakes in Lake Mburo National Park.
Kigambira Loop. The Kigambira loop trails traverses through the woods and spaced thicket which opens you to bush duikers and bushbucks.
The Lakeside Track. The Lake side track allows you to explore the water environment featuring the water flora and fauna. The range of water birds dwelling in the water logged areas and swamps that surround Lake Mburo can be seen long this track not forgetting the swamp dwelling animals like the Sitatunga.
Game drives are best done in the morning and in the evening and tend to last 3 – 4 hours. The drives are taken along various tracks considering the factor of season and weather. For example in dry seasons, animals assemble around water bodies like lakes and swamps which tend to offer extraordinary photo sessions when herds of animals congregate in mutual co – existence on water shores.
Hiking and Nature Walks in Lake Mburo
Unusually, the whole park is open to walkers as long as they are accompanied by a ranger guide. At Rwonyo, a guided walk leads to a salt lick where many animals are attracted to the salty rocks. Walks on the western side of the lake begin at 7am and take two hours. At this time of day, you may encounter hyenas returning to their dens and hippos retreating to the lake. Hikes through the woodland provide an opportunity to sight forest birds and mammals, while the walk to the top of the hill rewards visitors with a spectacular view of 9 of the region’s 14 lakes. Of particular interest to walkers and birders is Rubanga Forest, which may be visited by prior arrangement and in the company of a ranger.
Horseback safaris in Lake Mburo
Horseback safaris are an exciting way to view wildlife, including eland and buffalo. Also commonly sighted are warthog, topi, impala, duiker, bushbuck, waterbuck and zebra. The four-hour hacks take visitors up to hilltop viewpoints with the option of bush breakfasts or sundowners. This activity is arranged at Mihingo Lodge.
Launch Trips in Lake Mburo
Lake Mburo national park is located in the middle of the park and the tranquil, calm waters of the lake offer opportunities for launch cruise and the activity takes two hours .The activity done in the afternoon hours enables one to explore the wildlife-rich eastern banks of Lake Mburo and species which can be viewed include the crocodiles, buffaloes and hippos as well as colorful Kingfishers, magnificent Fish Eagles, Hammerkops and their enormous nests and even the prehistoric-looking Shoebill. Voyages depart from Rwonyo jetty every two hours (subject to demand) starting at 8am.
Sport Fishing in Lake Mburo
Lake Mburo contains around six species of fish, with tilapia being the most common. The designated fishing spot is at Mazinga and visitors planning to participate in sport fishing are requested to come along with own fishing equipment and obtain a permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority. In Uganda sport fishing is only done in two protected areas i.e. Murchison falls and Lake Mburo national park.
Cultural encounters in Lake Mburo national park.
The local communities living around Lake Mburo National Park possess unique cultural heritage that originates from their traditional activities of cattle rearing. The Ankole long horned cattle kept in this part of Uganda are stunning species that can be encountered by any traveller alongside other unique practices of the local communities. While in this part of the country Uganda, One can take a look at the local traditional homesteads of the local Bahima people, arts and crafts, music dance and drama among other cultural products. Visit the Enyemebwa center to participate in cow milking, churning, rearing and cattle watering.
How to get there.
Lake Mburo National Park can be connected to from the following originating areas;
Two roads lead to Lake Mburo branching off from the Masaka – Mbarara road.
One helps you to enter via Sanga gate 37km east of Mbarara. While the other helps you to enter via Nshara gate 20 km from Lyantonde and 50 km to Mbarara.
You can also use public means to transfer to Lake Mburo National Park where you can board a bus up to Sanga town and then get a private taxi or a boda-boda to take you to Lake Mburo National Park.