View of peaks with glaciers near Elena hut
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located in southwestern Uganda on the east side of the Albertine rift valley. It is along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), just above the equator. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is situated in the Bundibugyo, Kabarole, and Kasese districts, 25 km from the small town of Kasese. The park has area of 996 km2, 70% of which is above 2,500 m.
The park comprises most of the centre and eastern half of the Rwenzori Mountains. The ice-capped Rwenzori Mountains are even higher than the Alps. Margherita Peak, one of Mount Stanley's twin summits is Africa's third highest peak at 5,109 m. Africa's fourth and fifth highest peaks (Mount Speke and Mount Baker) are also located in the park. The park has glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls, and lakes and is one of Africa's most beautiful mountain region.
Biodiversity is extraordinarily high with 17 regionally endemic birds and 12 regionally endemic mammals. The elephant, common chimpanzee and l'hoests monkey are globally threatened species (IUCN 1994b). The park is noted for its remarkable plants, which has been described as some of the most beautiful in the world (Riley, Laura; William Riley (2005). Nature's Strongholds: The World's Great Wildlife Reserves).
The broken montane forest dominated by Sybmphonia globulifera, Prunus, Yoshania alpina, Albizia spp. and Dombeya spp. occurs at about 2400 m. 199 tree species (18% of the country's total) have so far been recorded in this zone . Next is the bamboo (Arundinaria alpina) forest up to an altitude of 3000 m, a heather zone dominated by giant heathers such as Phillpia trimera and small trees such as Hagenia and Rapanea, frequently over 10 m in height up to 3800 m, and afro-alpine moorland that ends at the snowline at 4400 m.
There are five distinct vegetation zones in the park, which change with altitude. Most significant are the giant heathers, groundsels, ericas and lobelias of the tree heath and alpine zones.
The park has 241 species of birds (27% of the country's total), 78 species of butterfly, and four primate species.
Flower of Dendrosenescios
One hundred and two mammals species were recorded in the park. The Rwenzori duiker Cephalophus rubidus is found nowhere in the world and the Rwenzori otter shrew Micropotamogale rwenzorii is only known from here and Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda. The park has elephant, giant forest hog, sitatunga in small numbers and buffaloes, which had once disappeared, have re-appeared. Hyrax and leopard also occur in the park as well as four species of diurnal primate: the common chimpanzee (curently estimated 500 indiviuals, Plumptre et al 2003a) found in the lower altitude forest areas, a sub-speceis of Agolan colobus (colobus angolensis ruwenzorii), the Rwenzori colobus, restricted to this park, L'Hoests monkey and the blue monkey
Because of its physical and biological values, the park was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1994. Among rare reptiles, the strange-nosed chameleon Bradypodion xenorhinum is endemic to the Rwenzoris.