Mount Kenya

Ecotourism Resource


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Mount Kenya is a stratovolcano created approximately 3 million years after the opening of the East African rift. Before glaciation, it was 7,000 m (23,000 ft) high. It was covered by an ice cap for thousands of years. This has resulted in very eroded slopes and numerous valleys radiating from the centre. There are currently 11 small glaciers. The forested slopes are an important source of water for much of Kenya.

There are several vegetation bands from the base to the summit.[9] The lower slopes are covered by different types of forest. Many alpine species are endemic to Mount Kenya, such as the giant lobelias and senecios and a local subspecies of rock hyrax.[10] An area of 715 km2 (276 sq mi) around the centre of the mountain was designated a National Park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The park receives over 16,000 visitors per year.

Only 10 of the 18 glaciers that covered Mount Kenya’s summit a century ago remain, leaving less than one third of the previous ice cover. The ice on Mount Kenya has also become thinner. Emerging evidence suggests the decline has accelerated since the 1970s. By 2010, Lewis Glacier, the largest on Mt. Kenya had decreased by 90% in its volume (area) since 1934. The highest rates of ice volume loss occurred around the turn of the century

Regardless of the relative contributions the different causes make to the shrinking glaciers, if present climatic conditions continue, the African glaciers will disappear within several decades, in concert with the retreat of most tropical glaciers throughout the world.

In mountainous regions where glacial melt contributes to river flows, climate change will significantly affect associated aquatic ecosystems and the human activities dependent on them. UNEP predicts that at first, meltwater inputs will increase river runoff, but then there will be a sharp decline. In Africa, however, the shrinking glaciers will have little impact on water resources because glaciers provide modest, if any, water to lower elevation streams, as most ice is lost through sublimation; water from the small amount of melting evaporates very quickly

The other issue is that heavy commercial exploitation of Mount Kenya Forest under improved transport and communications networks in central Kenya, accompanied by rising local utilisation of forest resources from a rapidly growing and sedenterised human population resulted in severe forest degradation which worsened during the 1980s. In response to the rapid loss of forest species and increasing encroachment, the Forests Act was revised in 1982 and 1992 and a series of bans and prohibitions against natural forest exploitation were introduced during the mid and late 1980s and implemented through heavy policing of the forest and prosecution of offenders. Forest management was based on an increasingly restrictive and exclusionary system of protection.

Studies are underway to investigate how a range of economic conditions and incentives can be set in place to achieve a situation where forest resources are conserved at the same time as community economic welfare increases.


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