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Scientists Find Uganda’s Murchison Falls Protected Area To Be a Hub of Biodiversity

NEW YORK (November 20, 2015)—Scientists conducting a series of biological surveys of Uganda’s Murchison Falls Protected Area on the banks of the Nile River have uncovered a noteworthy finding: the park is twice as rich in wildlife as previously thought and is one of the region’s foremost centers of biodiversity.

Murchison Falls Protected Area, a landscape covering 5,045 square kilometers (1,948 square miles), is best known for its namesake waterfall, its sizable elephant populations, and a starring role in the 1951 movie “The African Queen” with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. What scientists are now uncovering is the abundance of smaller species—diminutive mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and plants—in Uganda’s largest swath of natural habitat.

“It’s clear now that Murchison Falls contains a level of biodiversity that approaches Uganda’s other highly diverse protected areas such as Queen Elizabeth National Park,” said Dr. Andy Plumptre, Director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program. “Any development planned for the area must take this into account and must be done in a way that minimizes negative impacts on this environment and its wildlife.”

Conducted in 2014, the surveys of Murchison Falls Protected Area—which includes Murchison Falls National Park, and Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Reserves—tallied more than 1,500 animal and plant species. The taxonomists identified 144 mammal, 556 bird, 51 reptile, 51 amphibian, and 755 plant species. The surveys have greatly expanded the number of known species for the area. The number of known reptiles in particular was doubled by the effort, and continued study of the surveys’ amphibians will likely result in several new species. Several of the mammal and bird species recorded by the scientists are currently classified as either “Endangered” or “Vulnerable” by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

The research team members are certain that continued surveys in this area will likely result in more recorded species, especially in the Bugungu Wildlife Reserve where researchers discovered an unexpected diversity in birds, amphibians, and plants, particularly the endemic and globally threatened species. This area is part of the development plan for the production of oil and gas, which have been discovered under both the park and this wildlife reserve.

“We commend the government and the oil companies for taking important steps to balance economic incentives with conservation priorities,” said Dr. Tim Tear, WCS Africa Executive Director. “We also stress that all avenues of minimizing potential negative effects of development on one of Uganda’s greatest resources—it’s wildlife—should be explored before committing to a course of action.”

“There is a need to undertake a detailed inventory of the biodiversity of the oil production areas as current information is inadequate to make informed decisions,” stated Dr. Simon Nampindo, WCS Uganda Director.

Murchison Falls Protected Area is also one of the few areas in Africa where elephants are increasing in number; aerial surveys conducted in June 2014 by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and WCS observed an estimated 1,330 elephants in Murchison Falls National Park. It is also home to the largest population of the endangered Rothschild giraffe in the world, and supports congregations of globally threatened bird species.

This work was funded by the Norwegian Government through Uganda Wildlife Authority and National Environment Management Authority,  Tullow Oil, and Wildlife Conservation Society.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.