The Ruwenzori (Rwenzori) Mountains, Africa

Introduction

The Ruwenzori are some of Africa’s biggest block mountains. The mountain forms a border between Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), measuring about 120 km (75 miles) long and about 64 km (40 miles) wide. With the highest peak at 5,109 m (16,761 ft) high, the mountain has several jagged peaks that have made it an important geographical future in the region.

Mount Rwenzori was formed through faulting activities, which were also responsible for the formation of the Albertine (western) Rift of the East African Rift, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley. The mountains are composed of metamorphic rock, which is believed to have tilted and squeezed upwards during plate tectonic activity and continental drifting, leading to the present mountain. The Rwenzori forms part of several Great Rift Valley features such as lakes (grabens) Albert, George, Edward, Kivu Tanganyika and Malawi, mountains Muhavura and Kilimanjaro, and numerous rivers.

Historic significance

Little is known about when the first man claimed the mountains. However, one of the first Europeans to see mount Rwenzori called them Lunae Montes (mountains of the moon), which were believed by the ancient Greeks to be the source of the Nile River. In 1906 the Italian Duke of Abruzzi became the first European to reach the peak of Mount Rwenzori. It is at this time that the first detailed map of the mountain was produced, which would later guide expeditions to the ranges.

Environmental significance of the Rwenzori

caption Figure 1. Bambo on the Rwenzori. (Photo by Magelah Peter © 2007)

The mountain is one of the most fascinating natural features of Africa. Located between 0°23?09?N and 29°52?18?E, the mountain lies virtually on the equator line, thus receiving sunshine throughout the year. Despite its location, the mountain is covered by snow throughout the year and is an important source of numerous rivers, including tributaries to Lake Victoria (the world’s second largest freshwater lake) and the Nile River (the world’s longest river).

The Rwenzori has numerous fauna and flora. Its vegetation cover includes tropical rain forests, bamboos, and alpine meadows. The Rwenzori’s animal population includes forest elephants, several species of antelopes, primates and birds. One zone is known for its six-meter-high heather covered in moss, another for its giant lobelia. The mountains are now a World Heritage Site protected under two national parks—the Rwenzori National Park in Uganda and Parc National des Virunga in Congo.

The mountain is home to numerous tribal communities of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Among them are the hunter-gatherer Mbuti pygmies of eastern Congo, who entirely depend on hunting and gathering food from the forests. Subsistence farming is also practiced in the area and this, together with high population growth, are the major threats to the mountains fauna and flora, due to poor faming methods.

Environmental Threats to the mountain

caption Figure 2. Gullies on the Rwenzori mountains. (Photo by Magelah Peter © 2007)

Like much of the world, the Rwenzori Mountains have been greatly affected by global warming. According to Green Peace the mountain's glaciers and snow cover are disappearing and breaking apart into smaller glacial pieces. “Glaciers of Africa” (1987) stated, “There has been substantial and virtually continuous wastage of the glacier ice for more than 100 years”. In 1906 photographs of Rwenzori mountains showed one large, continuous glacier; in 1984 this was reduced to four broken glaciers. By 2005 less than half of the glaciers still existed covering only 1.5 km2 of the mountains. It is believed that the disappearance of the glaciers is responsible for the drying up of rivers and lakes. For example, in 2006 Lake Victoria dried to its lowest level in 80 years.

caption Figure 3. Slopes of mount Rwenzori with scattered trees. (Photo by Magelah Peter © 2007)

Other major threats to the mountain are poor farming methods employed by the communities living on the mountain slopes. The Rwenzori has experienced significant soil erosion and numerous landslides due to poor farming methods. Figure 2 shows gullies created on the slopes of the Rwenzori; the gullies resulted from uncontrolled sand mining and poor agricultural methods.

Deforestation is another major problem facing the mountain ranges. Over 90% of the communities living on the mountain slopes depend on firewood for fuel, leading to extensive destruction of forests. Figure 3 shows the scattered trees that characterize the once forested slopes of mount Rwenzori.

References

  • Dr. Richard Taylor's Homepage.
  • Greenpeace (undated) "The Death of the Ice Giants".
  • Kaser, G., Osmaston, H.A. 2002, Tropical Glaciers, Cambridge University Press, UK.
  • Osmaston, H.A., Pasteur, D. 1972, Guide to the Ruwenzori, Mountain Club of Uganda.
  • Williams, Richard S., Jr. (editor) (1991) Glaciers of the Middle East and Africa, In U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper, 1991, pp.G1-G70.
Glossary

Citation

Peter, M. (2009). The Ruwenzori (Rwenzori) Mountains, Africa. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156551

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