Mgahinga National Park protects the Ugandan part of the Virunga Mountains and its three main peaks; Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo. Established in 1991, when more than 2,000 people were relocated from within its boundaries. Covering less than 34km2, Mgahinga is congtigous reserves in Rwanda and DRC extending over some 430km of the higher Virungas. Small it might be, but Mgahinga is also arguably the most scenic park in Uganda, offering panoramic views that stretch northward to Bwindi, and a southern skyline dominated by the steep volcanic cones of the Virungas, surely one of the most memorable and stirring sights in East Africa.
Mgahinga protects 76 mammal species including the golden monkey (a localised and distinctive race of the blue monkey) black and white colobus, mountain gorilla, leopard, elephant, giant forest hog, bushpig, buffalo, bushbuck, black forested duiker and several varieties of rodents, bats and small predators. Baflingly, only 115 bird species have been recorded here, possibly a reflection of the park’s small size but also suggesting that no serious study of its avifauna has ever been undertaken. However the park is still of great interest to bird watchers as several of the species recorded are localised forest birds and 12 are considered to be endemic to the Albert Rift Region.
Mgahinga is best known to tourists for gorilla tracking. Oddly enough, no gorillas live permanently within the park but a fair number move freely between Uganda and neighboring Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, and one habituated troop frequently spends months at a time within Mgahinga. Unfortunately in 2004 the park’s habituated group was subjected to attacks from a belligerent lone silverback and has since spent most of its time across the border in Rwanda. The group returned to Uganda in November 2012, however gorilla tracking has recommenced. For how long this will possible, it is impossible to say.
Gorilla tracking is the only reason to visit Mgahinga though it also offers a far broader range of activities than any of the other ‘mountain gorilla reserves’, including golden monkey tracking, a cultural trail, caving, forest walks, and day hikes to the three volcanic peaks. Anybody who enjoys challenging day hikes or who has an interest in natural history could happily spend a week based at Mgahinga without going near a gorilla.
The national park’s office in Kisoro offers current information regarding Mgahinga as well as sometimes stocking maps and pamphlets.