User:Mehmet Karatay/Ecology of Mount Kenya

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The flora and fauna of Mount Kenya is very diverse, due to the differences in altitude, rainfall, aspect and temperature. The mountain slopes are split up into zones, with each zone having different dominant plant species. Most plants on Mount Kenya have not been known for a long enough time for common names to become part of the language. Most plants on Mount Kenya are distinguished only by their scientific names.[1]. Wet weather on the mountain comes from the Indian Ocean, to the east and south-east. Consequently these slopes are wettest.[2] The wetter slopes can support thicker forests and more bamboo, as well as plants that require more water to survive. Consequently, the east and south-east slopes have more biodiversity than the northern and western slopes.[citation needed]

Lowlands surrounding the mountain[edit]

The lowlands surrounding Mount Kenya are part of the East African plateau, and are at around 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in height. The climate is very hot and dry, and the vegetation is mainly grassland and thorny scrub. Many types of grasses grow here, and the trees and bushes in this area are used by the local people in a variety of ways.[citation needed] Lantana camamra is a bush that is often used as hedging, and Euphorbia tirucalli is grown as fences.[3]

There are patches of native woodland, with the dominant native trees being of the Acacia and Combretum genuses. Other trees, such as eucalyptus and fruit trees, have been introduced for food and commercial reasons.[3]

Cultivated Zone[edit]

The lower slopes of Mount Kenya are very fertile and the area is heavily cultivated

The lower slopes of the mountain below 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) have a huge potential for cultivation and are intensively farmed. The soils are moist and very fertile due to volcanic activity[3].

Most of the area that is now cultivated around Mount Kenya used to be forest. During the deforestation to provide land for crops and grazing some trees were left standing. From these trees it is possible to get an idea of trees that used to exist in the forests. However, it is not at all representative since trees were usually felled or retained for specific reasons. Sacred and useful trees were left standing far more frequently than other species.[3]

It is possible to grow some species of tree alongside food crops. Many of these trees were retained during deforestation, as well as species that provide shade for grazing animals.[3]

As well as many species of tree being eliminated from the lowlands by deforestation, several exotic species have been introduced. For these reasons it is not possible to look at the species that grow where the forest used to be and infer that they represent the composition of the forests.[citation needed]

There are many indigenous plants that still live in the cultivated zone. Trees from the original forest are still found in some places, kept by the local people for sacred reasons or to use in the future. Fig trees are considered sacred by the Kikuyu, so can frequently be seen standing on their lands. Some types of indigenous grasses are also seen around the cultivations.[3]

The crops that are grown around Mount Kenya have changed since the arrival of Europeans and the increase in travel. The people who lived around the mountain in the 1800s grew crops such as millet, sorghum and yams, but new species have now been introduced. There are various reasons for the change in crops, including ease of farming and the advent of cash crops. In the 1800s, families would only grow what they needed to eat and be self-supporting. Crops are now grown to sell.[3]

The slopes below 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) are intensively farmed. The crops grown around the mountain differ, as the amount of rainfall between the northern and southern slopes is very different. The southern slopes are much wetter, so are ideal for growing tea and coffee, whereas the northern slopes are too dry for these crops. A system of irrigation has been developed which has increased productivity[4] . However, as so many people in Kenya are dependent on the rainfall on the mountain, this is reducing the amount of water that gets to more distant areas and causing drought there.

Before 1900 there were many wild animals found in the lower regions of Mount Kenya. Buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and many antelopes were common, as were hippopotamus and crocodiles around the rivers. After 1900 most of these animals had either been killed or left the area, although a few, such as hyena and porcupine, remained.[3] Today...[citation needed]

Between 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) and 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) there is sub-montane forest, which is exploited by the local people. There are many forest based industries, such as sawmills, furniture and construction, based around these slopes.[4][5]

The plants that are grown around Mount Kenya are now mainly used as cash crops. Tea and coffee plantations are common, with rice, potatoes, maize, citrus fruits and mangoes also growing well in this environment. The exact distribution of crops depends on the local environment, such as rainfall and soil type. Plantations of exotic trees are also found, such as those of pine, eucalyptus and cypress.[3] A few large scale farms have been set up, where wheat and barley are grown.[4]

Livestock are kept in less productive areas of the lower slopes of Mount Kenya, particularly cattle for their milk.[4][3]

Montane Forest Zone[edit]

The montane forest around Mount Kenya is full of a variety of species

The forests around Mount Kenya vary greatly depending on the altitude and aspect. It is around 32 kilometres (20 mi)-40 kilometres (25 mi) from the outside edge of the forest to the glaciers, and the forests have a maximum thickness of around 26 kilometres (16 mi).[6] The lower limit of the forest is between 2,000 metres (6,562 ft) and 2,500 metres (8,202 ft)[1].

Montane forest requires at least 1,300 millimetres (50 in) of rain every year. In places where there is less than this, such as the northern side of the mountain, it is difficult for this forest to grow. In these areas the forest has been cut down and, unable to re-establish itself, has been replaced by moorland and scrubland.[7]

The montane forest zone has been utilised by humans for a long time. For this reason it is much changed and far smaller than it once was. Local people used to travel into the forests to collect honey, timber, ivory and animal skins. They also used to collect plants, both for medicinal and magical purposes.[3] The 'most significant' changes to the forest composition have taken place since European settlers first arrived in the area, in the 1890s. Before this time the forest was used by the local people, but, due to their small numbers, was not depleted in area significantly. Initially after Europeans arrived the local people were all pushed onto reservations, such as one around Mount Kenya. Population numbers in these areas increased, and consequently the amount of forest being destroyed increased.[3]

When Europeans realised the fertility of the soils in the Mount Kenya area, they displaced the local people and took the land for themselves. Plantations of exotic species of trees have been established, including species such as pine, cypress and eucalyptus.[3]

There are two main areas of forest, each with a different dominant species of tree. The wetter area, to the south and east of the mountain, is dominated by camphor, whereas the drier area to the north and west is mainly cedar. There also remains a small section of forest in the north-eastern corner stretching out across the plains towards Meru, although this has been almost eliminated due to deforestation.[6]

Dominant plants of the Cedar forest

The most common tree in the cedar forest is the East African Pencil Cedar (Juniperus procera)

The forest found in the north and west of Mount Kenya is dominated by cedar. This area of the forest is relatively undisturbed, as the climate is not wet enough to support agriculture. However, the Maasai, who used to graze their cattle on the nearby grasslands, often burnt the grass to encourage new shoots to grow after the rains. Cedar burns well, and these fires often spread into the forest. For this reason the forest grows to lower altitudes only in the river valleys, where the fires were unable to penetrate.[6] In some areas on the northern slopes, the forest is absent, with the grasslands of the plains reaching the heathland zone.

The most common tree in the cedar forest is the East African Pencil Cedar. It resembles the true pencil cedar from Virginia, but is not closely related. It can grow very large (up to 30 metres (100 ft)), but only in the very favourable conditions that can be found in the centre of the forest belt. The pencil cedar is used for softwood timber and is the most valuable tree in this part of the forest.[6]

In the outer areas of the forest, the Large Yellow Wood or Podo is found. It only grows at low altitudes, and often grows in the tongues of forest that have survived along the rivers. Also in this area is the Brown Olive (Olea chrysophylla), which is a relatively small tree.[6]

The Kenya Olive (Olea hochstetteri) is a common tree found in the north and west. It is occasionally found in the southern forests as well. Similarly, Red Stinkwood is more common in the northern forests but can also be found to the south of Mount Kenya. It is often used to make furniture.[6]

Two trees of importance to the local people are Mugaita (Rapanea rhododendroides), which produces very good timber. It has leaves similar to a rhododendron, hence its name. The Mununga (Ekebergia ruepelliana) is used by people to put honey barrels in. These barrels are often made from the camphor trees on the southern and eastern slopes.[6]

On the northern slopes the dominant species is the East African juniper Juniperus procera.[8] This can be over 30 metres (100 ft) tall and is used as softwood timber. Also used as timber is Podo, Podocarpus milanjianus, which can grow to 45 metres (150 ft).[8] The African Olive Olea africana is common in drier forest and at lower elevations. Schefflera is similar to strangler figs, where it starts as an epiphyte and kills the host tree. Common shrubs are elderberry Sambucus africanus, and raspberry. Herbs are common in the forest. Most common are clover (Trifolium), Shamrock pea (Parochetus communis), sunflecks (Guizotia reptans), balsams (Impatiens spp.), mints (Leonotis spp.and Plectranthus spp.) and stinging nettles (Urtica massaica).[1]

Dominant plants of the Camphor forest
The camphor forest area is found on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kenya. It used to be much larger, but the Kikuyu have previously cleared much of the forest to use the highly fertile soil for cultivation. This was stopped when the Forest Administration Staff was formed. Instead, the Kikuyu have been taught how to conserve the forest so that it will survive for use in years to come for their timber and firewood.[6]

The river valley vegetation is dominated by tree ferns.[3]

The most common tree found in this area is the Camphor, known locally as Mazaiti. It only grows in the wetter areas of the mountain, and is the most valuable tree there. It produces very good hardwood timber, and also provides a home for bees. Branches are often removed from the trees and hung in more convenient locations to provide nests for bees and a supply of honey for the local people.[6]

Red stinkwood is sometimes found in the southern forests, but is more common in the cedar forests of the north and west. Mukuruwe (Albizzia fastigiata) lives in damp climates, so is well suited to the southern forests where it is relatively common. It has a high smooth trunk and a flat canopy.[6]

Broad-leafed trees are more common than coniferous in the montane forests, although one species of coniferous tree is also found here. The Yellow-wood, or Podo is a relative of the yew and grows at high altitudes within the forest. Since it does not live near the cultivated slopes it has not been affected by the deforestation in the same way as the other trees. The timber from this tree is the most useful of all the trees on Mount Kenya.[6]

On the south and south-west sides of Mount Kenya there is a small patch of forest between the bamboo zone and the rest of the camphor forest that contains much less variation and different species. The dominant trees here are Podo and Nuxia congesta. These two softwood trees create a small area of slightly drier habitat.[3]

On the south-east slopes the dominant species is Ocotea usambarensis, which can grow up to 45 metres (150 ft). Mosses, lichens and ferns also grow here.[8]

Dominant plants of the Meru forest
The forest above the town of Meru, to the north east of Mount Kenya, continues much further down the mountain than the rest of the forest. The plants found in this section of forest are slightly different.[6]

Two broad-leafed species, Muringa (Cordia holstii) and Moru (Vitex keniensis) used to be common on the south-eastern slopes, but, due to deforestation there, are now restricted to the Meru forest. Mtunguru species (Lovoa spp.) and Mukoi (Piptadenia buchananii) are also found here. On the outskirts of the forest the African Teak is often found.[6]


Mountain bongos are endangered, but they are found on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.

Many mammals are common in the forests of Mount Kenya. Some are residents and other visit from the surrounding land. Various species of monkeys, several antelopes, tree hyrax, porcupines and some larger animals such as elephant and buffalo all live in the forest. Buffalo use the forests to hide and stay cool during the day, then emerge onto the adjacent plains to feed at night. Rhino used to do the same, but have been hunted to extinction in the area.

Other large mammals that are common in the forests are bushbuck, waterbuck, zebra and eland.[6] Zebra are only found on the northern slopes, where the forest belt is narrowest. Some rare species, such as the giant forest hog[3], suni, and mountain bongo are found here.

Predators found in the forests include hyena and leopard, and occasionally lion. [8]

On the Naro Moru route, to the west of the mountain, buffalo have been observed digging the soil with their horns and eating it. This is probably because of the iron in the soil, which is necessary for adaptation to altitude.[9]

Many species of animals live in the montane forest. Some are residents, and others visit from the surrounding land. Various species of monkeys, several antelopes, tree hyrax and some larger animals such as elephant and buffalo all live in the forest. Zebra are only found on the northern slopes, where the forest belt is narrowest. Some rare species, such as the giant forest hog, suni, and mountain bongo are found here. Predators include hyena and leopard, and occasionally lion.[8] Many bird species are also found here, including turacos, francolins and hornbills.[8] Various types of sunbirds, parrots, swallows and mountain buzzards are common. At the Met Station, on the Naro Moru route, the Green ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) and Abyssinian ground-thrush are found,[1] both of which are rare. Also on the Naro Moru route buffalo have been observed digging the soil with their horns and eating it. This is probably because of the iron in the soil, which is necessary for adaptation to altitude.[10]

At the Met Station, on the Naro Moru route, the Green ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) and Abyssinian ground-thrush have been seen[1], both of which are rare. The Golden-winged Sunbird (Nectarinia reichenowi) is found around the forest edges. It has a symbiotic relationship with a species of flower known as the Lion's Claw flower (Crotalaria agatiflora). Its beak is the perfect shape to gather nectar from the plant whilst its head often looks golden like its wings because it is covered in pollen.[11]

Other animals
Sections of camphor trunk are used by local people to encourage bees to nest in the forest, in easier places for the people to access. These hives can be seen in many trees around the forest edges. When there is sufficient honey in the hives, the people smoke the bees out before removing the honey, then leave the bees to replenish their supplies.[citation needed]

Bamboo Zone[edit]

The bamboo supresses other vegetation growth, roads allow other species to populate.

The bamboo zone is found between the montane and timberline forest zones, between around 2,200 metres (7,200 ft) and 3,200 metres (10,500 ft). It is found on all high mountains in East Africa, although on Mount Kenya it is unusual in that it creates a belt around the mountain.[12] It is entirely natural, and not the result of deforestation[1]. Bamboo (Arundinaria alpina) is very dependent on rainfall, and also requires gentle terrain and rich soils. For this reason it is very sparse in the north, and in some places absent entirely. In the west the bamboo can grow up to 9 metres (30 ft), and in the wetter south-eastern slopes it can grow as tall as 15 metres (50 ft)[8].

Dominant plants
Bamboo suppresses other vegetation, and prevents young trees from growing. However, a few of the taller trees are found scattered around the bamboo zone.[6][3] These trees were able to grow in years when the bamboo was not as dense.[12] The species of bamboo found on Mount Kenya, Arundinaria alpina, is endemic to the East African mountains.[12]

As bamboo is not palatable to most animals, there is very little resident fauna here. However, there are many tracks through the bamboo made by large animals such as buffalo and elephant on their way between the forests and the moorland higher up the mountain. Elephants sometimes eat new bamboo shoots.


Other animals

Timberline Forest Zone[edit]

Mosses are common in the timberline forest

The timberline forest is usually found between 3,000 metres (9,840 ft) and 3,500 metres (11,480 ft), although it extends to lower altitudes on the drier slopes[1]. It is often known as the Hagenia-Hypericum zone, as these are the most numerous plants here. The common flowers are red-hot poker, giant forest lobelia and violets.[1][8]

Dominant plants

Red-hot pokers are some of the flowers found in timberline forest and lower heathland zones

Smaller trees dominate in the timberline forest, and the characteristic trees are African rosewood (Hagenia abyssinica) and Giant St John's Wort (Hypericum). H. abyssinica is unable to tolerate shade, so has been pushed further up the mountain to where larger trees cannot grow. This is the reason it is found at this altitude rather than in the montane forest.[13] The common flowers are red-hot poker, giant forest lobelia and violets.[1][8]



Other animals
Two types of reptile live in the timberline forest zone. Mabuya irregularis is a skink that lives between the heathers. It is uncommon, but more frequently seen is Chamaeleo bitaeniatus, the side-striped chameleon, that lives between 1 metre (3 ft) and 2 metres (7 ft) above the ground in the giant heathers.[14]

Heathland and Chaparral Zone[edit]

The heathland and chaparral zone on Mount Kenya is less distinct than the equivalents on Kilimanjaro and Ruwenzori.[7] This zone is wider on the east slopes of the mountain, which receive most rain. In the valleys of the heathland and chaparral zone the ground is often waterlogged due to relatively flat ground with poor drainage. This habitat is found in every valley on the mountain. A section on the Naro Moru track is known as the "Vertical Bog", and stretches from the upper edge of the forest to around 3,600 metres (11,800 ft).[7] The vegetation in the heathland and chaparral zone burns very easily, even though it grows on waterlogged land,[citation needed] and a large part of this zone was burnt during the Mau Mau rebellion.[3]

Dominant plants
Heathland and chaparral are found between 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) and 3,800 metres (12,500 ft). Heathland is found in the wetter areas, and chaparrel is found in the drier ones. Most of the plants in these areas are shrubs with small leaves. The dominant plants in the heathland areas are giant heathers which can grow to over 10 metres (33 ft) tall. In chaparral the plants are often shrubbier and more aromatic, such as African sage and sugarbush.[1]

The ground levels of the heathland zone is often dominated by Carex sedges and mosses, often Spagnum spp..[15]

Grasses are also common on the boggy ground. These grow between the giant heathers, and are interspersed with flowers. Common flowers in the heathland zone are Geranium vagans and Kniphofia rogersi. Lobelia keniensis is also found in wet areas.[7] Gentians are found in this zone, and alpine species live at the higher altitudes.[1]

Several species of grasses and flowers grow beside streams, where there is a continuous source of water. Carex and Juncus sedges are common. Flowers include Disa stairsii, Gladiolus watsonioides and Dicrocephala alpina. Senecio battiscombei also grows in this habitat, along with some species of giant heathers.[7]

Drained ground, such as ridges and moraines, has more typical chaparrel vegetation than wetter areas.[7]



Other animals
The most common reptile to be found on the moorlands of Mount Kenya is a skink. Mabuya varia lives in the heathland and chaparral zone. It lives under the grass tussocks and rocks.[14]

Animals in the heathland and chaparral zone are a mixture of forest and alpine species. There are few resident large animals in this zone, but rats, mice and voles live at this altitude, and their predators, the eagles, buzzards and kites, are present.[8] Herds of eland are sometimes found, and occasional lions, but there are no longer rhino on Mount Kenya.

Afro-alpine Zone[edit]

The Afro-alpine zone starts at about 3,800 metres (12,500 ft). It is characterised by thin dry air and a huge temperature fluctuation. It is an isolated area, with a small lower-Alpine region in the Aberdares, 80 kilometres (50 mi) away, but no other similar regions nearby. This makes it a terrestrial island with many endemic species.[7]

Dominant plants

There are a great many plants living in the Afro-alpine zone of Mount Kenya. They have all adapted in some way to the harsh environment. Some of these plants are endemic as they have been isolated in this area for so long.

The dominant plants in the Afro-alpine zone on Mount Kenya are the the tussock grasses.[16]

There are over 100 species of wildflower in the Afro-alpine zone including everlastings, buttercups, sunburst and African gladiola. Because of the variation, some are in flower at all times of year. Everlastings live in the drier areas and have white or pink flowers. In the wetter areas Afro-alpine buttercups are common, with their yellow flowers. Other common flowers in this zone are sunburst and the African gladiola, although the latter only grow at lower latitudes.[1]

Giant groundsels in the Mackinder Valley

The most obvious plants in the Afro-alpine zone are the giant groundsels (Senecio spp.). Giant groundsels, are only found on East African mountains. They have leaves up to 10 metres (33 ft) and some species have stems. Two species, Senecio keniodendron and S. keniensis are separated by altitude. S. keniodendron occurs more frequently with increasing altitude above 3,900 metres (12,800 ft) and up to 4,500 metres (14,800 ft)[2], whereas S. keniensis occurs mainly below 4,000 metres (13,100 ft) and very rarely above 4,200 metres (13,800 ft). There is a small overlap, and in this area hybrids are formed.[16]

S. keniodendron grows in clumps with many plants together. This supresses most other vegetation, although Lady's mantle grows around the base of the senecios, and grasses sometimes survive. Towards the crests of ridges and bottoms of valleys the senecios become less dense, so other plants can survive.[7]

The valleys in the Afro-alpine zone are more sheltered than the ridge tops, and often shaded from the sun. They are more affected by the daily freeze-thaw cycle than the ridges, but support many flowers and grasses. The grasses that live here are usually cropped low by hyrax.[7]

Towards the tops of the ridges the ground is well drained, and the conditions are more exposed. Plants have difficulty surviving here; some are stunted. Tussock grasses are common. These shelter other plants such as flowers which can survive between the tussocks.[7]

Giant lobelias can grow to 6 metres (20 ft). Tussock grass grows alongside the lobelias.

Sheltered areas of the Afro-alpine zone, such as near to cliffs, can produce conditions in which some plants from the moorland zone are able to colonise. This is common in the Gorges Valley, where the abundance of sheltered areas means the moorland zone stretches higher up the mountain than in other valleys.[7]

Ledges of cliffs make a good habitat in the Afro-alpine zone. Several types of flowers and succulents have colonised this habitat.[7]

There are many waterlogged places in the Afro-alpine zone. They support a large variety of plants, including mosses and liverworts, flowers and grasses.[7]

Rocky outcrops, which are dry and exposed areas, are able to support a small variety of plant life, including herbaceous plants and succulents.[7]

Plants are subject to solifluction, where needle-ice is produced every night[17]. This ice uproots seedlings and can damage roots. Some plants have evolved to live without roots, such as lichens and moss-balls. Senecio keniodendron and Lobelia keniensis have spongy areas between the cells in their leaves where water can freeze every night without damaging the plants. [18] When these plants are subjected to temperatures above 15 °C (59 °F), photosynthesis is considerably reduced[17]. For this reason they are resticted to the Afro-alpine zone of the mountain.

The inflorescence of Lobelia telekii can grow up to 3 metres (10 ft) tall

There are three kinds of giant rosette plants; Carduus(thistle), Senecio and Lobelia. Carduus keniensis, the giant thistle, is endemic to Mount Kenya and the Aberdares[citation needed].

Some plants can live along the edge of scree. The roots bind the scree together and allow other plants to start living there. Small tussocks and mosses can colonise, although these do not flower.[7]

On high altitude flat ground the soil is first colonised by tussock grasses. Mosses are then able to survive, which stabilise the soil and allow other plants to colonise.[7]

Dutton was on the ridge towards Shipton's Peak. "A curiosity which caught my notice was the array of mosses and lichens which cover the sides of this spur; they were everywhere, they even clothed the stems of the giant groundsel and lobelia which still contrived to find enough soil to support heir existence; and in every crevice I came upon ferns and flowers. There was more vegetation here than on any other part of the mountain, of similar height, which I have visited. The giant groundsels and lobelia appeared to have reached maturity, but they were obviously stunted by the poverty of the soil."

The three dominant mammal species in the Afro-alpine zone are the Mount Kenya Hyrax, the Groove-toothed Rat and the Common Duiker. They have evolved so that they occupy different niches, with different food sources, and therefore do not compete in any way unless food is particularly scarce. The only times that these animals meet is when travelling for water or foraging on the floor. This is the only way that such an extreme habitat can support a variety of animal species.[7]

Hyrax live between 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) and 4,700 metres (15,400 ft) in holes in rocks which have become weathered and well established. The holes are not usually deep and they do not burrow into the ground. Hyrax eat grasses and mosses, occasionally taking young lobelia leaves. Unlike other species of hyrax they frequently need to drink, and use runs between their burrows and water that are protected by tussock grasses. When they are far from their holes, hyrax are predated by the auger buzzard, so need to stay hidden as much as possible.[7]

Hyrax at this altitude are adapted in several ways. Their fur is at least 5 centimetres (2 in) long, compared to fur of other species of hyrax which is never longer than 1.25 centimetres (0.5 in), as insulation against the cold. It is probably the largest hyrax in Africa, as this causes less relative heat loss. Hyrax are most active in the morning, when most of the colony emerge and warm themselves in the sun. When reproducing each female only usually produces one offspring at a time, which allows more care to be given to the young, as well as less competition for the scarce food.[7]

Groove-toothed rats live between 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) and 4,300 metres (14,100 ft) in tussock grassland, valley floors and near lakes. They live in holes that can be seen underneath Senecio keniodendron plants. The burrow leads up into the Senecio plant, where the rat lives near the base of new growth. By living high above the ground the air temperature is slightly warmer. The groove-toothed rat eats seeds and grasses.[7]

Common duiker live from the forest edge to around 4,700 metres (15,400 ft). They are relatively rare and infrequently seen, as they usually hide in Senecio forests of Erica(heather) bush. They are diurnal browsers, eating small woody plants, and rarely need to drink.[7]

There are a few other mammal species that live in the Afro-alpine zone. These also occupy individual niches to avoid competition. The Harsh-furred Mouse is omnivorous, mainly eating vegetable matter and insects, whereas the King Mole Rat burrows and eats roots and tubers.[7]

Predatory mammal species usually only visit the Afro-alpine zone, returning to lower regions of the mountain mainly at night. Leopard, Wild dog, Lion and Red River Mongoose have all been seen in the Afro-alpine zone. In most valleys live a pair of leopards. They are highly territorial, and can live up to 4,900 metres (16,100 ft). They eat hyrax, Otomys rats and duiker. Wild dogs spend much time in the Afro-alpine zone, although they are not permanently resident. They hunt as a pack, so can take larger prey than leopards. They mainly eat duiker, occasionally hyrax, and zebra, eland and gazelles on the north of the mountain.


On the alpine slopes there are plenty of birds. Many species of sunbirds live here, as well as alpine chats, starlings, wagtails and birds of prey such as auger buzzard, lammergeier and Verreaux eagle. Birds pollinate some Senecio species, and all Lobelia species on the mountain[17].

Other animals
In the dry season there are butterflies, but the altitude is too high for bees, wasps, fleas and mosquitoes. Trout have been introduced to the streams and tarns and are now found all around the mountain. The timberline frog, Afro-alpine lizard and Hinde's viper are some of the few amphibians and reptiles to live in the Afro-alpine zone.[1]

Algyroides alleni is a wall lizard that lives in tussock grasses and the scrub. It eats beetles and their larvae and is frequently seen.[14] Hinde's viper is an uncommon viper living in isolated populations. It lives low in the Alchemilla scrub and feeds on frogs and other lizards.[19]

The dead leaves of Senecio keniodendron is an idea habitat for beetles, spiders and molluscs.[7]

Vegetation becomes more sparse at this altitude, with small and giant heathers being dominant. Some can grow as high as 10 metres (33 ft)[8].

Senecio brassica, Lobelia keniensis and tussock grasses are dominant in the wetter areas. The Alchemilla (Lady's mantle) species are dominant in the drier areas.[2]

Smaller mammal species live in the Afro-alpine zone, including the groove-toothed rat, various African dormice and rock hyrax. Few large mammals are found at this altitude. Eland are found in dry areas, and zebra and common duiker have been recorded this high. Buffalo, elephant and hyena are also visitors.

The only common carnivore in the Afro-alpine zone is the leopard, although leopard, lion and hyena have all been seen on Point Lenana.[1]

Nival Zone[edit]

Nival is the area where the glaciers have recently retreated from. On Mount Kenya this area is usually above 4,500 metres (14,760 ft). It is not a continuous zone, because the glaciers are no longer continuous, but can be found at the base of each glacier. There are only two glaciers on Mount Kenya that are large enough and retreating at a steady enough rate to allow colonisation of the Nival zone to be studied.[7]

Dominant plants

Plants in the nival zone are scarce. They must be small to withstand the climate.

As the nival zone is, by definition, only recently emerged from underneath the glaciers, the only plants to live there have recently colonised. There are a few small plants, but they all need shelter from the glacial winds. Their growth is often very stunted.

The most common plants in these areas are grasses, thistles and flowers.

Several types of flowers are found in the nival zone. Mackinder reported seeing Helichrysum brownei on the summit of Batian in 1899.[7]

Colonisation of the Nival zone can be seen around the Lewis and Tyndall Glaciers. The area around the Lewis Glacier is more protected from cold winds, so the plants are able to grow larger.[7]

The first plant species to colonise the Nival zone is a small flower called Senecio keniophytum. The plants grow in the lee of boulders, so are protected from the glacial winds. They are stunted and have long hairs to create a microclimate which is warmer than the surrounding area. Mosses and lichens are next to arrive in the Nival zone, as the moraines make a suitable habitat for them. Lichens live on weathered rocks with a rough surface, and mosses live in the lee of boulders. Together they stabilise the soil and allow other plants to colonise.[7]

Mount Kenya hyrax live in the lower limits of the nival zone. They only usually live up to 4,725 metres (15,502 ft). Lions and leopards have been known to venture this high, but are very infrequent visitors.[7]

The Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbird lives on the edge of the nival zone. It only lives in areas where Protea has become established. The Alpine Chat is also found on the lower edge of this zone.

The Alpine Swift (Apus melba africanus) lives in areas up to 4,875 metres (15,994 ft). It is resident here, and lives in groups of up to 30 individuals. It mainly eats insects, which are often caught over streams and lakes.[7]

Other animals

Endemic species to Mount Kenya[edit]

13 plant species are endemic to Mount Kenya.[7]

The Senecio species are endemic to the East African mountains. Senecio keniodendron is endemic to Mount Kenya.[citation needed]

Carduus keniensis is endemic to Mount Kenya and the Aberdares.[citation needed]



Other animals
Montatheris is endemic to Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. It only contains one species, Montatheris hindii or Hinde's viper. This snake can be found on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya.[1]

A large number of spiders have been recorded at all but the highest altitudes of Mount Kenya. Some of these spiders have distinct differences from similar species living in other areas.[20]

At least seven endemic species of mollusc have been found on Mount Kenya. Three are only found in the drier forests to the north and west of the mountain, whereas the other four are distributed more evenly around. The diversity of molluscs decreases with altitude, but is also very dependent on rainfall, with snails in the wetter regions of the mountain being more abundant. Species living on the drier western side of Mount Kenya tend to be in the families found at more temperate latitudes, whereas the species in the wetter south and eastern sides are more closely related to tropical families.[21]


  • Forest Acts
  • Cleanups
  • Research and surveys
  • Tourism for funding
  • Education
  • Indigenous replanting
  • Tea buffer zone
  • Benefits to people who suffer from conservation

Elephant fences[edit]

  • Prevent elephant encroachment on crops
  • Who puts them up?
  • Where are they?
  • Where does the money come from?
  • What difference do they make?


  • Paths - tops of ridges and bottoms of valleys
  • Fires - senecio leaves and larger scale
  • Litter - plague of rats, litter cleanup, encouraging unnatural species
  • Brings in funding


  • Encroaching on forest
  • Areas of Shamba system
  • Farmers expected to support conservation but no incentives
  • Irrigation further down river


  • Farms encroaching on forest
  • Plantations of wrong trees
  • Loss of habitat
  • Loss of water source
  • Landslides
  • Illegal logging


  • Illegal
  • Ivory and bushmeat
  • Easy to hide in forest
  • Huge rewards and little risk
  • Few rangers
  • Government bans
  • Trade still occurs


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Allan, Iain (1981). The Mountain Club of Kenya Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. Nairobi: Mountain Club of Kenya. ISBN 978-9966985606. 
  2. ^ a b c Mizuno, Kazuharu (1998). "Succession Processes of Alpine Vegetation in Response to Glacial Fluctuations of Tyndall Glacier, Mt. Kenya, Kenya". Arctic and Alpine Research 30 (4): 340–348. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Castro, Alfonso Peter (1995). Facing Kirinyaga (in English). London: Intermediate Technology Publications Ltd. ISBN 1-85339-253-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gichuki, Francis Ndegwa (August 1999). "Threats and Opportunities for Mountain Area Development in Kenya". Ambio (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences) 28 (5): 430–435. 
  5. ^ Benuzzi, Felice (2005). No Picnic on Mount Kenya: A Daring Escape, a Perilous Climb. The Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1592287246.  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|origyear= suggested) (help)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dutton, E.A.T. (1929). Kenya Mountain. London: Charles Whittingham and Griggs. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Coe, Malcolm James (1967). The Ecology of the Alpine Zone of Mount Kenya. The Hague: Dr W. Junk. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Andrew Wielochowski and Mark Savage (1991). Mt Kenya 1:50000 Map and Guide (Map). 1:50000 with 1:25000 inset. Cartography by West Col Productions (1 ed.). ISBN 0-906227-39-9.
  9. ^ Mahaney, W.C. (1987). "Behaviour of the African Buffalo on Mount Kenya". African Journal of Ecology 25: 199–202. 
  10. ^ Mahaney, W.C. (1987). "Behaviour of the African Buffalo on Mount Kenya". African Journal of Ecology 25: 199–202. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2028.1987.tb01107.x. 
  11. ^ David Attenborough (1998-11-04). "The Insatiable Appetite". The Life of Birds. 21:40 minutes in. BBC.
  12. ^ a b c Niemelä, Tuomo; Petri Pellikka (2004). "Zonation and characteristics of the vegetation of Mt. Kenya". Expedition reports of the Department of Geography, University of Helsinki 40: 14–20. 
  13. ^ Fetene, Masresha; Yonas Feleke (2001). "Growth and photosynthesis of seedlings of four tree species from a dry tropical afromontane forest". Journal of Tropical Ecology 17: 269–283. 
  14. ^ a b c Andren, Claes (06 1975). "The Reptile Fauna in the Lower Alpine Zone of Aberdare and Mount Kenya". British Journal of Herpetology: 566–573. 
  15. ^ Rejmánkivá, Eliska; Marcel Rejmánek. "A Comparison of Carex runssoroensis Fens on Ruwenzori Mountains and Mount Elgon, Uganda". Biotropica 27 (1): 37–46. 
  16. ^ a b Young, Truman P.; Mary M. Peacock (1992). "Giant senecios and alpine vegetation of Mount Kenya". Journal of Ecology 80: 141–148. 
  17. ^ a b c Smith, Alan P.; Truman P. Young (1987). "Tropical Alpine Plant Ecology". Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 18: 137–158. 
  18. ^ Beck, Erwin; Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Margot Senser and Renate Scheibe (1984). "Equilibrium freezing of leaf water and extracellular ice formation in Afroalpine 'giant rosette' plants". Planta 162: 276–282. 
  19. ^ Spawls, S.; K. Howell, R. Drewes, J. Ashe (2004). A Field Guide To The Reptiles Of East Africa. London: A & C Black Publishers Ltd. p. 543. ISBN 0-7136-6817-2. 
  20. ^ Bosmans, R (1977). "Spiders of the subfamily Erigoninae from Mount Kenya, Kenya. Scientific report of the Belgian Mount Kenya Bio Expedition Part 3.". Revue de Zoologie Africaine 91 (2): 449–472. 
  21. ^ Tattersfield, P.; C. M. Warui, M. B. Seddon and J. W. Kiringe (2001). "Land-snail faunas of afromontane forests of Mount Kenya, Kenya; ecology, diversity and distribution patterns". Journal of Biogeography 28: 843–861. 

Category:Afromontane Category:Mount Kenya