Geography & Wildlife
A land of lakes and rivers
Mountains mark both eastern and western borders. In the east, there are a number of volcanic mountains, Mount Elgon the highest at 4,321m. In the west, the Ruwenzori mountains run down much of the border (with Uganda’s highest peak at 5,109m) and in the south are the northernmost of the Virunga range.
Most of Uganda lies along a plateau, with land gently rolling between 1,000-1,200 metres in altitude.
The plateau gradually declines in height towards the north (to around 900m) and the low-lying Nile Valley cuts through the northwest.
What is the source of the Nile?
Lake Victoria is sometimes said to be the source of the Nile. But really, this huge lake has many rivers which feed into it. The Ruvubu and Ruvyironza rivers (in Burundi) are regarded as the ultimate source of the Nile; these are upper branches of the Kagera River (in Rwanda) which flows into Lake Victoria.
With eight major rivers and five huge lakes, water covers nearly one-fifth of Uganda. Lake Victoria forms the south-eastern corner of the country. It is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and was long considered to be the source of the Nile’s headwaters.
A long and complicated river
The Nile is the longest river in the world (at 6,695km). It has many different stretches and flows through a number of east African countries. Find out more about the Nile in Sudan, for example. In Uganda, it is the ‘Victoria Nile’ and then the ‘Albert Nile’ (after exiting Lake Albert).
Apart from the Victoria and Albert Nile (no prizes for guessing who these rivers and their lakes were named after), Uganda’s rivers are mainly seasonal and can be slow and swampy in stretches.
Forests under threat
Uganda is rich in wildlife and habitats. The country has semi-desert areas in the north-east, swampland along the Albert Nile in the northwest and savannah across some regions.
The country also has areas of forest, including the tropical montane forests of the southwest. However, much of southern Uganda’s natural rainforest has been cleared.
The National Environment Authority estimates that the country has lost two-thirds of its forests in the last 20 years. Trees are especially threatened by the increasing demand for charcoal/firewood by the growing population.
In the Virunga Massif, the number of gorillas is rising thanks to conservation efforts which have limited poaching and reduced the threat of disease. At the last count, 480 mountain gorillas were living across the Virunga in the mountains of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda (the Mgahinga National Park). There were 300 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The natural environment is protected within the country’s ten national parks. One of these, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bwindi is home to the rare eastern mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Of all the gorilla species, the mountain gorilla is the most endangered, with fewer than 800 left.
Though the gorillas receive much of the attention, Uganda is home to many primates, including communities of chimpanzees, baboons and colobus monkeys. Nocturnal primates include four different species of bushbabies, whose large round eyes shine out from the trees under torchlight.
An unusual resident of Uganda’s forests is the potto, a sloth-like animal which hunts for food at night, often hanging upside-down from tree branches.