One of the most interesting physical features that Uganda possesses is the snow-capped peak of the Rwenzori mountain ranges, formerly spelled Ruwenzori, and which the ancient people are said to have referred to as the “Mountains of the Moon”.
Found in western Uganda, the block mountain forms a border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rwenzori is one of Africa’s biggest block mountains measuring approximately 120 km in length, 64 km in width, and its highest peak (Mount Stanley) is 5109 meters which is about 16, 762 feet high.
The mountain was formed through faulting activities, a process also responsible for the formation of among others, the Albertine rift of the eastern rift. During the formation process, tectonic activity and continental drifting is said to have led to the tilting and squeezing upward of crystalline metamorphic rock. The result was the formation of a range of mountains.
The Rwenzori is layered with five major zones the sixth being the highest peak, and these include; the savannah zone at the base which is characterized by savannah grassland vegetation and is found between 3000 and 5500 feet. Above it at 5500 to 7500 feet is the rainforest or montane zone. The bamboo forests follow at 7500 to 9500 feet and the heath zone which reaches approximately 12000 feet. Above the heath is the alpine zone and like the name suggests, it’s covered with alpine vegetation and reaches 14500 feet. Just like the saying goes, “The higher you go, the cooler it becomes”, above the 14500 feet and reaching 16763 feet is the snow-capped peak of the mountain. Each of the five zones consists of specific vegetation as favored by the altitude and temperature.
Just like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in Tanzania and Kenya respectively, the highest peaks of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges are permanently wrapped in snow and glaciers. The snow is an important source of many rivers for the surrounding areas, some of which are tributaries to lake Victoria (Nalubaale) and the great river Nile. This clearly spells out how important the mountain is to the entirety of Uganda by contributing to its biggest water bodies.
The Rwenzori is that it is located at 0˚23’09”N 29˚52’18”E/0.38583˚N 29.87167˚E and it thus virtually lies on the equator line. This implies that it receives sunshine all year round. It is therefore very fascinating that despite this fact, the snow which is found at the peak of the mountain is permanent.
The mountain is home to different flora and fauna. Some of which include the bamboo, groundsel, giant lobelia, mosses, long grass, giant ferns, and wild bananas, among others. These are characteristic of both tropical rainforest and afro-alpine vegetation.
The Rwenzori is a habitat to different enchanting animal species which have been approximated at 70 mammals and 217 bird species. Some of these include elephants, zebras and apes, the most popular of which are the mountain gorillas. Most of these animals are endangered species at the verge of extinction, and in order to conserve them, the mountains were gazetted into national parks.
The Rwenzori Mountains and Virunga National Parks are now a popular tourist attraction in the Rwenzori area, the latter being greatly inhabited by the Bakonzo and Bamba natives. The national parks have boosted tourism in the area and in Uganda because of their uniqueness.
Mountain Rwenzori is also popular worldwide for hiking or mountain climbing sports and on many occasions, enthusiasts have taken nine to twelve days trekking to the Margherita peak. It has for all these reasons, been recognized as one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) heritage sites.
Tourism activities taking place at the Rwenzori has greatly boosted the Bakonzo and Bamba through provision of employment opportunities. Many have been recruited as travel/tour guides, entertainers, game rangers, and many others, thus providing them with an income.
However, a major challenge that is endangering Mountain Rwenzori is global warming a result of climate change. With increasing temperatures, the snow at the peak of the mountain is noticeably melting away at a faster rate to an extent that some glaciers that once existed are now no more. Others have broken into smaller glaciers.
Other environmental challenges facing the area are the high rate of deforestation, poor farming techniques, poaching, and others, which has putting both the flora and fauna of the mountain at risk of disappearing.