Diverse Africa: mountains and rainforest

Over the last few days we have experienced how diverse the ecosystems of Kenya are. We travelled north of the equator to Mount Elgon national park, and then on to Kakamega rainforest. This part of Kenya is off the main tourist trail; a rare opportunity to explore raw Kenyan landscapes.

Mount Elgon:

The highest peak of Mount Elgon is located in Uganda, as the Ugandan-Kenyan border cuts through the area. Mount Elgon has podocarp forest, bamboo, and alpine zonation, blessing the areas with an exciting plethora of flora and fauna. On arrival at camp waterbuck were grazing where we were to pitch our tents and black and white casked hornbill above in the trees, it was wild and we loved it! On the day of our mountain climb we were driven part way up, and en route early morning our bus managed to spot elusive serval cat, dikdik, duiker, blue monkeys, and even signs that elephants had recently passed through the forest! The cooler air was a refreshing change when we started climbing, compared to the heat of the savanna which we had become accustomed to. And the scenery was stunning; walking at around 3700m the view stretched for miles. What was odd is that it felt like we were in a European mountainous region – except the scattered African flora offered a reminder that this was Kenya.

When the park was gazetted in 1968 local communities were relocated outside the boundaries. This created hostility, though after a decade the benefits of the park began to be understood. Today development around Mount Elgon creates a stark boundary, a harsh frontier between forest and vast neighbouring agricultural land. When you think that this was once forest, it’s quite startling.

Kakamega rainforest:

Leaving Mount Elgon with fond memories we departed for Kakamega rainforest. This is Kenya’s only rainforest, and a last remnant of the vast stretch of rainforest which once existed west across the continent. It is not a national park but a reserve (run by Kenya Forestry Service and Kenya Wildlife Service) so some activities such as tree felling are permitted on a regulated basis. At around 230 square kilometres it’s a small island left in an increasingly human dominated landscape. Tea plantations surround the rainforest (tea is in the top three exports), and where trees have been felled some exotic species such as pine have been planted. These were clearly visible from our 800m ascending hike at 5am to see the sunrise over Kakamega. A beautiful, yet increasingly fragmented jewel of Africa.

Camping on the edge of the rainforest provided us with some new challenges and thrill – the proximity of snakes, biting insects and monkeys, the humidity, plus an intense and epic thunderstorm above our heads at night. But we loved it. The rainforest offered plenty of opportunity to bump up our species lists. I was most excited about the butterflies (there are over 510 butterflies in Kakamega!) and they certainly didn’t disappoint in our morning walk. Huge swallowtails fluttered above our heads whilst the smaller species sought out sunny areas on the forest floor. Their bold, striking wing patterns filled the understory with colour. As we moved through the forest we had some great encounters with bird and mammal species, at one point dodging falling fruit from a troop of foraging blue monkeys in the above canopy.

But we are not here just to learn about wildlife, we explore how people use natural resources and perceive wildlife, past and present. Our guides gave us a background to traditional cultural practices in the area, including pointing out what plants are believed to have medicinal properties.

Now we find ourselves heading back down south towards the Maasai Mara. This marks the final stage of our field trip – where has time gone?

 

Amber Nichols

 

aan204    January 15th, 2016    Kenya archive    , ,