Murchison Falls National Park
1. Introduction to Murchison
A brief history
“The fall of water was snow white, which had a superb effect as it contrasted with the dark cliffs that walled the water, while the graceful palms of the tropics and wild plantains perfected the beauty of the view. This was the greatest waterfall of the Nile.” – Wrote the explorer Samuel Baker in 1864.
In the 150 years that have passed, the view has remained as impressive and now the wildlife levels in the surrounding national park are recovering well after the depredations of the 1970s and ‘80s, securing the Park’s reputation as one of Uganda’s most popular destinations.
Initially protected as a game reserve in 1926, Murchison was declared as one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952 and now covers an area of 3,840 square kilometres making it the largest protected area in the country. It lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley where the Bunyoro Escarpment descends into the lowland plains of the savannah.
In the 1960s, Murchison’s problem was that it had too many animals, which resulted in an elephant and hippo cull to try to manage large herbivore utilisation. The years of civil war provided their own solution and resulted in a massive population for all species. However, peace and an understanding of the value of tourism has greatly helped the recovery of many populations. Elephant are thriving; the park holds the largest global population of Rothschild giraffe (only seen in Murchison and Kidepo); buffalo numbers are growing as are the Ugandan kob. The lion population is estimated to be around 200 split across about 20 prides and even leopard are being seen regularly.
The park is bisected by the Nile River. As it flows west into Lake Albert, the Nile squeezes through an 8 metre gap to plunge 45 metres over the remnant Rift Valley wall down into the aptly named ‘Devil’s Cauldron’, creating the famous rainbow captured in so many photographs.
The Falls are the final obstruction in an 80 kilometre long reach of rapids from which the Nile transforms into a broad, placid, river destined for Lake Albert and a long journey north.
3. Wildlife in Murchison Falls
Game drives in the savannah grasslands and riverine woodland of the Buligi Peninsula provide excellent sightings of lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and Ugandan kob antelope. Leopard are increasingly seen; only rhino are missing, but the plan is to reintroduce them from the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
In the wooded south of the park, the Budongo Forest Reserve is a haven for birders and a great chimpanzee tracking location.
Although most visitors spend just two or three nights in Murchison, it is possible to stay for much longer and still leave wanting more.