Lake Mburo is Uganda’s smallest savanna national park covering a total area of 370km2. It is located approximately 240km west of Uganda’s capital city Kampala between the coordinates of 00 36S, 30 57E (Latitude:0.6000; Longitude:30.9500). It is about 45km east of Mbarara town (one of the biggest towns in western Uganda) and 33km from Igongo; Cultural Center a key destination for tourists on cultural safaris to Uganda. Lake Mburo is therefore the closest of all Uganda’s National Parks to the capital city.
The park’s highest point is 1,828m above sea level (ASL) but most of its area lands between 1,220m ASL and 1,828m ASL. The park is well drained; 20% of its total area (370 square kilometers) is covered in wetland habitats including Lake Mburo after which it was named.
There is a mystical story that is told about the formation of the lake. It is believed that many ages back, the grass-fertile area on which the park sits was occupied by generations of cattle keepers who also grew some crops on a small-scale. Among the settlers included two brothers called Mburo and Kigarama who both had their own animals and used to move with them throughout the valley in search for eating and drinking spots for their animals. One night when he was deep in his sleep, Kigarama had a dream in which the valley was completely covered by floods. In the morning Kigarama narrated what he had seen in his dream to his brother and supposed that this was a warning from their gods and beseeched his brother to follow him with their property to the top of a nearby hill. However Mburo just laughed it off and continued grazing his animals and doing things like he always did on any other normal day. Kigarama left the valley with his property and climbed a hill. It didn’t last long until the heavy rains fell and flooded the entire valley forming a lake which covered Mburo and his property. The floods also formed some other swamps which attracted animals and birds of all sizes and colors. The lake was named after Mburo and the hill where Kigarama took refuge was also named after him. They both still exist and can only be seen when on a Uganda Safari to Lake Mburo National Park.
Lake Mburo National Park is home to over 66 mammal species including grass and flesh eating mammals of all sizes like he 300 hippos, burchell’s zebras, the newly reintroduced Rothschild’s Giraffes, several antelope species and the warthogs. The park also has a number of reptiles including the reptiles which dwell mostly in its wetlands. Some of the wildlife can be seen even before reaching the gate to the National Park as they search for greener pastures and for more flat areas from which they can easily see the carnivores from a distance. Animals like the aggressive buffalos and the zebras can be found on the neighboring farmlands.
Lake Mburo national park has a number of bird species including the uncommonly seen shoebill, the white winged warbler, the African fish eagles and the red faced barbet which can only be viewed in Lake Mburo National Park. In total birders can be delighted to see over 300 bird species in Lake Mburo National Park.
Some of the animals that used to reside in the park seize to exist including the elephants and lions many of which were hunted down by members of the community while others died because of change of vegetation (especially with the emergence of invasive vegetation species principally the acacia vegetation) which replaced the endemic tree and plant species on which those animals thrived. Today the park still has a big number of animals which were able to survive through this hard age.
In a bid to protect the park’s resources especially from human activities like poaching that the surrounding communities were fond of doing, the lake Mburo was established as a controlled hunting area in 1933 and then gazette into a game reserve thirty (30) years later in 1963. Under the government of Dr. Milton Obote, the park was upgraded to its current standard (a National Park) in 1983.
Ever since the park was gazette, the majority of the people who live around it have had a negative perspective about it. The surrounding communities are agriculturalists who keep graze their cattle and grow food crops for their families and the surplus can be sold to earn a living. Previously, the local communities freely moved from their settlements through the park area to access water for their animals to drink and to use in their homesteads; and to collect firewood which they would use for cooking. However, when Lake Mburo was gazetted, they were stopped from going into the park and this created a deep hatred for the park. When the animals crossed to their farmlands, they would brutally spear them to death or sometimes poison them.
This relationship is expected to get better in the future especially due to the Park’s management to create a rapport. The park carries out periodic meetings in which they get to listen to the complaints of the locals and to respond responsibly. On a few designated days in the week, locals are allowed to go into the forest and collect firewood and get water under the supervisions of staff from the park. Also 20% of the park entrance fees is injected in the community in form of social amenities like treatment centers, schools, roads and in funding community developmental projects.