Mount Kenya National Park and National Forest, Kenya


Mount Kenya National Park (0°10'S, 37°20'E) is a World Heritage Site located in Kenya.

Geographical location

Mount Kenya straddles the equator about 193 kilometers (km) north-east of Nairobi and about 480km from the Kenya coast. The nominated World Heritage property includes the adjacent natural forest between 1,600 and 3,100 meters (m). 0°10'S, 37°20'E

Date and history of establishment

The National Park was established in 1949 and internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme in April 1978. Legally established as a Forest Reserve before being gazetted as a National Park. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997.


The total area of the park is 142,020 hectares (ha) including:

  • Mt. Kenya National Park 71,500 ha
  • Mt.Kenya Natural Forest 70,520 ha

Land Tenure

Government (Kenya Wildlife Service and Forestry Department).


1,600 m to 5,199 m.

Physical features

Mount Kenya was built up by intermittent volcanic eruptions, mainly in the period 3.1 to 2.6 million years ago. The entire mountain is deeply dissected by valleys radiating from the peaks, which are largely attributed to glacial erosion. The base of the mountain is approximately 96 km wide. There are about 20 glacial tarns (small lakes) of varying sizes and numerous glacial moraine features between 3,950 m and 4,800 m. The highest peaks are Batian 5,199 m and Nelion 5,188 m. The salients, comprise 3-5 km wide ridges.


Mount Kenya has two wet seasons. There is a long wet period from March to June and a short dry season from December to February. The amount of rainfall ranges from 900 millimeters (mm) in the north to 2,300 mm on the south eastern slopes. A stratiform cloud deck tends to persist between 2,800 m and 3,800 m. Above about 4,500 m most of the annual precipitation falls as snow. During the rainy season, the peak area is often covered in snow, with depths on the glaciers of 1 m and more. The annual temperature range is about 2 degrees Celsius (°C), with the lowest values in March-April and the highest in July-August. The diurnal temperature range is large, amounting to about 20°C in January-February and about 12°C in July-August. Diurnal circulations are vigorously developed with wind blowing down the mountain from evening throughout the night into the middle of the morning, and a reversal to upslope flow from then into the afternoon. Very strong winds are quite regularly encountered in the peak area in the early morning, speeds gradually decreasing with sunrise.


Vegetation varies with altitude and rainfall, with a rich alpine and sub-alpine flora. Juniperus procera and Podocarpus spp. are predominant in the drier parts of the lower zone (below 2,500 m), with rainfall between 875 and 1,400 mm. Cassipourea malosana predominates in wetter areas in the south-west and north-east (over 2,200 mm/year). However, most of this lower altitude zone is not within the reserve and is now used for growing wheat. Higher altitudes (2,500 m-3,000 m with rainfall over 2,000 mm/year) are dominated by bamboo Arundinaria alpina on south-eastern slopes, and a mosaic of bamboo and Podocarpus milanjianus with bamboo at intermediate elevations (2,600 m-2,800 m), and Podocarpus at higher and lower elevations (2,800-3,000 m) and (2,500-2,600 m). Towards the west and north of the mountain, bamboo becomes progressively smaller and less dominant. Hagenia abyssinica and H. revolutum predominate in areas of maximum rainfall 2,000 m-3,500 m with up to 2,400 mm/year. Above 3,000 m, cold becomes an important factor, tree stature declines, and Podocarpus is replaced by Hypericum spp.. A more open canopy results in a more developed understorey. Grassy glades are common especially on ridges. The lower alpine or moorland zone (3,400 m-3,800 m) is characterized by high rainfall, a thick humus layer, low topographic diversity, and low species richness. Tussock grasses Festuca pilgeri, and sedges Carex spp. predominate. Between the tussocks there are Alchemilla cyclophylla, A. johnstonii, and Geranium vagans. The upper alpine zone (3,800 m-4,500 m) is more topographically diverse, and contains a more varied flora, including the giant rosette plants Lobelia telekii and L. keniensis, Senecio keniodendron and Carduus spp.. Senecio brassica is found in both the lower and upper alpine zone. There are a variety of grasses on well-drained ground and along the streams and river banks such as megaphytic Senecio battescombei and Helichrysum kilimanjari. Continuous vegetation stops at about 4,500 m although isolated vascular plants have been found at over 5,000 m. There are 13 species endemic to Mount Kenya listed in Hedberg.


In the lower forest and bamboo zone mammals include the giant forest hog Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, tree hyrax Dendrohyrax arboreus, white-tailed mongoose Ichneumia albicauda, elephant Loxodonta africana, black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, suni Neotragus moschatus, black-fronted duiker Cephalophus nigrifrons and leopard Panthera pardus (which has also been seen in the alpine zone). Moorland mammals include: localized Mount Kenya mouse shrew Myosorex polulus, hyrax Procavia johnstoni mackinderi, and common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia altivallis. There have also been reported sightings of the golden cat Felis aurata. The endemic mole-rat Tachyoryctes splendens is common throughout the northern slopes and the Hinde Valley at elevations up to 4,000 m. Forest birds include green ibis Mesembrinibis cayennensis (local Mount Kenya race), Ayre's hawk eagle Hieraaetus dubius, Abyssinian long-eared owl Asio abyssinicus, scaly francolin Francolinus squamatus, Ruppell's robin-chat Cossypha semirufa, and numerous sunbirds (Nectariniidae). Other birds include scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird Nectarinia johnstoni, mountane francolin Francolinus psilolaemus, Mackinder's eagle owl Bubo capensis mackinderi, and the locally threatened scarce swift Schoutedenapus myioptilus. The alpine swift Apus melba africanus and alpine meadow lizard Algyroides alleni are near endemic.

Cultural heritage

caption A Kikuyu man. (Source: Pennsylvania State University)

Mount Kenya is regarded as a holy mountain by all the communities (Kikuyu and Meru) living adjacent to it. They believe that their traditional God Ngai and his wife Mumbi live on the peak of the mountain and use it for their traditional rituals.

Local human population

Kikuyu Meru communities live in peripheral zone of Mount Kenya.

Visitors and visitor facilities

Mountain safaris are organized by the Naro Moru Lodge and a private safari company, and locally by the Mountain Club of Kenya. Access to the park is possible by the Sirimon, the Naro Moru and the Chogoria tracks. Mount Kenya National Park received 15 to 20 visits from school groups per year.

Scientific research facilities

Pioneer studies include Moreau (1944) on the description of Mount Kenya's alpine fauna, followed by Hedberg (1957) on the botany and Hedberg (1964), Coe (1967) and Coe and Foster (1972) on the fauna. Studies of meteorology and palynology have been undertaken. Most work has been done above 3,800 m and more comparative work is needed.

Conservation value

Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro and is a vital water catchment on which seven million people depend. The forest zone hosts important populations of several threatened animal species. It has one of the most impressive landscapes in East Africa and is snow capped. Its Afro-alpine ecosystem has several endemic species. The site constitutes a major destination in Kenya for nature tourism and is regarded as a holy mountain by local communities, Kikuyu and Meru.

Conservation management

The Mount Kenya National Park five year management plan (1993-1998) is currently being implemented by Kenya Wildlife Service. The main goals of the plan are 1) to preserve the afro-alpine ecosystem; 2) to preserve the traditions and values of a high mountain wilderness for enjoyment by visitors; 3) to preserve Mount Kenya's contribution of Kenya's environmental quality.

Management constraints

Human interference in the park is low but serious in the gazetted forest area at lower altitudes. Fire is a threat from humans and lightning is a threat in the dry, lower forest but recovery from fire takes place through natural recolonization. Trail proliferation along the Naro Moru Track has resulted in muddy swathes up to 100 m wide in the lower alpine zone, and the destruction of an estimated 10% of the entire valley-bottom habitat in the upper 3 km of the Teleki Valley. The threats to the forest area are thought to be similar to other areas of indigenous forest in Kenya: illegal logging, firewood collection, poaching, charcoal burning, destructive honey collecting, settlement and encroachment.


The park employs 42 people including a mountain rescue team formed by 12 rangers.


No information.

IUCN management category

  • II (National Park) and
  • IV (Forest Reserve)
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria - ii, iii

Further Reading

  • Allan, I. (1991). Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimandjaro. The Mountain Club of Kenya. Regal Press, Nairobi.
  • Bussmann, R.W. (1994). The forests of Kenya (Kenya). Vegetation, ecology, destruction and management of a tropical mountain forest ecosystem. PhD Dissertation. University of Bayreuth, 3 Vol. + Annexes
  • Bussmann, R.W. (1996). Destruction and management of Mount Kenya'sa Forests. Ambio 25 (5): 314-317.
  • Coe, M. (1967). The Ecology of the Alpine Zone of Mount Kenya. W. Junk, The Hague.
  • Hedberg, O. (1951). Vegetation belts of East African mountains. Svensk Bot. Tidskr 45: 140-202.
  • KWS (1993). Mount Kenya National Park. Five Year Management Plan. Kenya Wildlife Service.
  • KWS (1996). Nomination Forms for Maasai Mara World Heritage Site, Mount Kenya World Heritage Site and Sibiloi World Heritage Site. Submitted to the World Heritage Convention. Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Moreau, R. (1944). Mt. Kenya: A Contribution to the Biology and Bibliography. J. East Afr. Nat. Hist. Soc. 18(1 and 2): 61-92.
  • Young, T. (1984). Status and Potential of Kenya's High Mountain Ecosystems. In: Endangered Resources for Development. Proceedings of a workshop on the status and options for management of plant communities in Kenya. National Museums of Kenya.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2009). Mount Kenya National Park and National Forest, Kenya. Retrieved from


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