TORO-SEMLIKI GAME RESERVE
The Toro-Semliki Game Reserve is Uganda’s oldest protected natural area and was among the first gazetted areas established in 1926. The reserve extends to over 543km2 and runs northeast of the Bundibugyo to Ntoroko, a sprawling fishing village on the shores of Lake Albert.
Toro-Semliki Game Reserve is topographically remarkable, set on the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley at a relatively low altitude of 600-700m ASL. On a clear day, the setting of the reserve is awesome, with the Rift Valley Escarpment rising sharply from the Eastern shore of Lake Albert. The peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains and parts of D. R. Congo are visible to the southwest.
Life at the Reserve
The reserve is dominated by open acacia woodland and grassy savanna with patches of palm trees, a belt of riparian woodland along with the main watercourses, and an extensive swamp towards Lake Albert. In the 1970s, the vast scale of Toro-Semliki Game Reserve was complemented by some of East Africa’s most prolific plain game. It had residents of big game with over 100,000 Uganda kob (Kobus kob), Jackson’s Hartebeests, waterbucks, elephants, buffaloes, lions, and leopards were numerous and these predators never had to work harder for meals. There was a scheme to introduce tigers at the reserve but it was dropped since they are not indigenous to Africa.
In the 1990s there was heavy poaching, some animals reached local extinction but wildlife here has partially recovered from the heavy poaching toll. There are several primates at the reserve that include chimpanzees of the Mugiri River Forest, Red-tailed monkeys, Vervet, Black and white colobus monkeys, and olive baboons. The reserve is highly alluring for bird watchers with about 462 bird species.
To do at the reserve
Three tracks serve the reserve and are limited to the road between Karugutu and Ntoroko. Driving through the park for game viewing is a hit and miss due to its fewer animal densities but if taken at a slow pace it can be quite rewarding. You can get close encounters with forest and savanna elephants, buffaloes, waterbucks, warthogs, Uganda Kob, leopards, and Bushbabies are occasionally seen. You can take on the morning, afternoon, and night drives at the reserve. Visitors who stay at Semliki Safari lodge have a chance to explore the reserve on off-track to deep into the reserve.
The drives can be interesting for even the bird watchers.
If you are visiting the reserve, you can take on a guided walk for about 3 hours through a variety of habitats with an armed ranger from the riverine forest and savanna. You can walk freely anywhere in the immediate vicinity of Ntoroko where the shores of the lake teeming with birdlife. More alluring walks can be done at the Mugiri River Forest near Semliki Safari Lodge with an isolated and semi habituated chimpanzee community. The sighting of these chimpanzees is not guaranteed.
Visitors can also do a walk/hike to the Nyaburogo Gorge. A 7km hike through habitats that starts from the reserve headquarters.
Ride on the scenic Lake Albert when you visit the wildlife reserve. For Avians, it is one of Uganda’s most reliable sites to see the Shoebill at close quarters. The area has a profusion of some common water birds and savanna birds. Non-ornithological visitors can do boat trips that extend to the base of Nkusi Falls which also explodes through a cleft in the Rift Valley Escarpment. Boat trips can be arranged by Uganda Wildlife Authority, Semliki Safari Lodge, or local fishermen that use the local motorized boats/canoes.
Getting to the reserve
If in a private vehicle, the drive from Fort Portal to Toro-Semliki Game Reserve is about 90 minutes on a surface winding road to Bundibugyo, Karugutu. Here it is signposted at a turn-off and 40km on a dirt road that leads to Ntoroko. Using public means can take you about 2-3 hours. From Kampala, the reserve is about 352km.
The reserve has excellent birding, overlooks Lake Albert, but has low animal densities, during the rainy season some roads become impassable and have limited accommodation options. It is served by Semliki Safari Lodge, Ntoroko Game Lodge which are high-end and Campsite and Bandas managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority.