Covering an area 3,840km2, Murchison falls national park is the largest of Uganda’s national park lying between altitudes of 619m and 1,292m above sea level. Much of the area that now comprises the national park was part of the Bunyoro Game Reserve, which was gazetted in 1910 following its evacuation due to an outbreak of sleeping sickness. Murchison falls national park was gazetted in its modern form in 1952. Under Amin, it was temporarily re-titled Kabalega Falls national park, a name which has long fallen into disuse, though you’ll still see it on some maps of Uganda.
The terrain of Murchison falls national park is predominantly wooded Savannah. There is a small area of ironwood forest in Rabongo Hill, which lies in the southeast and is the highest peak in the park. The Savannah is bisected by the Victoria Nile, flowing in a westerly direction between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert. The park’s most striking geographical feature is the 43m-high waterfall which gives it its name, notable not so much for its size as for its immense power, caused by the 50m-wide Nile being funneled into a 7m-wide cleft in the rocks and then virtually shooting out from the other side.
Along with Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls is Uganda’s most important sanctuary for plains animals. At one time, it boasted some of the most thrilling game viewing anywhere in Africa, but this is no-longer the case: it will be many years before animal populations recover fully from the heavy poaching of the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1970s, the elephant population numbered around 15,000, and herds of 500 animals were a common sight, as of 2017 the population has bounced back to 4,000 elephants.
Murchison falls national park has a list of 76 mammal species recorded include many of Africa’s best-known plains animals, notable absentees being cheetah, zebra and rhino. Primates are poorly represented, vervet, olive baboons are the most common species, though a small population of the localized patas monkey occurs in the north of the park, and the forests support black-and-white colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. Twenty predator species have been recorded, including lion, leopard, side-striped jackel, spotted hyena, the latter probably locally extinct. Antelopes are represented by Jackson’s hartebeest, bushbuck, Uganda kob, Defassa waterbuck, Bohor reedbuck, oribi, blue duiker and common duiker. Other large mammals include elephant, Rothschild’s giraffe, hippopptamus, warthog and bushpig.
460 bird species have been confirmed and 19 unconfirmed species is headed in desirability by the shoebill. This large slate-grey bird with an imbecilic Cheshire cat smirk is perhaps the species most sought after by African birders, and nowhere is it so likely to be seen as around Murchison falls national park. Many other water birds are prolific along the river, and raptors make a strong showing on the checklist with 53 species recorded. Birds to look out for around Paraa include the white and pink-backed pelicans, saddle-billed and woolly-necked storks, fish eagle, black crowned crane, African jacana, wattled and spur-winged plovers, white-collared pratincole, African skimmer, carmine and red-throated bee-eaters, black-headed gonolek, black-winged red bishop, yellow-mantled widowbird and yellow-backed weaver.