China envoy revels in beauty of Uganda’s parks, lures investors

Col. (Rtd) Tom Butime leads Amb Zhang Lizhong to the male hot springs in Semuliki National Park (Inset) Amb Zhang and his wife Lin Yagun after trekking chimps in Kibale Forest National Park.  Photo | Courtesy.

What you need to know:

  • Special ties. At the invitation of Col. Tom Butime, the Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Minister, Amb Zhang Lizhong, China’s Ambassador to Uganda toured western Uganda, visiting Semuliki, Kibale Forest and Rwenzori Mountains national parks,  writes Caesar K. Abangirah

“How many tourists did you get before Covid-19 brought everything to a standstill globally?” Ambassador Zhang Lizhong asked Godfrey Balyesima, the warden in charge of Semuliki National Park.

“About 2,000,”Balyesima offered. “Most of them are domestic tourists but others mainly from United States, Germany, Netherlands, Spain.”

He hastily added, much to the delight of the Chinese envoy to Uganda, that there are few Chinese that have since started visiting Semuliki, one of Uganda’s 10 national parks that is famed for the male and female hot springs.

The park, one of the virgin destinations that cuts across the Semuliki Valley, was the first of the three national parks that Amb. Zhang  was visiting during his three-day tour of western Uganda courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.

Semuliki Valley which, according to Balyesima contains several features associated with central rather than eastern Africa, lies on the border of Uganda and the DR Congo on the northern foothills of Rwenzori Mountains.

“That’s what makes it unique because most of the plants, birds and animals are friends to East Africa but they are endemic to Central Africa. This park is 220sq kms and it’s managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and it is one of the key bird watching destinations of Uganda because of the unique birds that we have,” Balyesima added before he led the Ambassador to the ‘female’ hot springs.

Here, Amb Zhang, who was accompanied by his wife Lin Yagun, and Col. Tom Butime, the Tourism minister, was fascinated by the beauty of the scenery and the history that comes with it.

“They are called the female hot springs because the mother provides several avenues for the children to enjoy,” Balyesima told the ambassador when asked why it was named so. “It is spacious and even allows us to cook food and enjoy it. The highest temperatures ever recorded at the female hot springs is 106°C.”

The male hot spring, acouple of kilometres away on the other side of the park is like a boiling crater lake.

“It is very hot and not so friendly.”

The Chimps at Kibale

At Kanyanchu Visitor’s Information Centre in Kibale Forest National Park, the next day, Amb. Zhang was told UWA offers concessions to private investors in the protected areas, as one way to generate revenue to sustain conservation operations.

UWA can also enter into co-management agreements or Public-private partnerships under some projects.

This was in relation to a question about how easy it was to construct lodging facilities in the parks. He promised to lure more Chinese investors to invest in lodges and hotels before embarking on his first ever chimpanzee trek.

Here, the ambassador was taken through the dense forest to the Kanyantale chimp community. The community accommodates about 90 members of the 1,500 chimpanzees in the park.

“It is the only community that we have got for the one hour trek,” Bosco, the day’s guide ranger told the visitors, before mesmerizing them with facts about the flora and fauna in the park.

The park, aptly titled the ‘Primate Capital of the World’, covers about 795 square kilometres and is famous for harbouring 13 primate species. These include the chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, grey cheeked mangabey, red tailed monkey, blue monkeys, olive baboons, bush babies as well as mammals such as the Forest Elephant, duikers, buffaloes, bush pigs.

It is also home to some 375 bird species, Bosco told the Ambassador and his entourage.

Apart from chimpanzee trekking, the ambassador was briefed on other activities such as the chimpanzee habituation experience, bird watching, hiking and nature walks as well as community walks.

“This is something that should excite my people,” Amb. Zhang said after the four-hour excursion.

Safe for Tourists

He  would, later in a tweet, admit that tourists are safe.

“One doesn’t need to worry about the safety in the national parks, as you see tourists must be accompanied by (ward) guides during the trekking,” he tweeted.

 During the brief trip to the Rwenzori Mountains’ Mihunga gate, he encountered a ranger who had just returned from a two-week training programme on mountain tourism in China.

“He shared his experience in China and his observations on the tourism development in Uganda. I also got some knowledge about the Rwenzori Park,” the ambassador said during a dinner organized by the Member of Parliament for Fort Portal Municipality Alex Ruhunda.

“This trip is fruitful, it is interesting. Uganda, especially in the western part, is beautiful. And as China, we have a lot to learn from you and your national parks. We have just started the national park build up. We (in China) have reserve areas; we have protection areas but only recently did we decide to establish national parks. Uganda has been working in this field for many many years. Murchison Park was established in the 50s and then the others in the 90s,” he said, adding that it was from such trips that China and her people would learn a little bit about how parks are managed.

“How they (parks) support each other financially, how we should deal with challenges such as the human-wildlife conflict. How we deal with endangered species, poaching, transportation, accommodation facilities. How do you overcome these? But all in all, I think Uganda has great potential with all these natural beauties. I will make sure more tourists and investors from China come here and enjoy the beauty as well as invest in the country.”


Gazetted in 1993, as a national park - the highest status of conservation in Uganda, Semuliki is one of Uganda’s hidden treasures.