Mount Kenya National Park was inscribed under natural criteria (vii) and (ix) as one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa with its rugged glacier-clad summits, Afro-alpine moor lands and diverse forests, which illustrate outstanding ecological processes.
A mission was requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008) to review the state of conservation of the World Heritage property. The World Heritage Committee was especially concerned by reports of fencing between local community cropland and the property to prevent wildlife conflict on the boundaries of the property, as well as other issues such as (1) the delay in finalising a management plan; (2) reports of land excision from the property; (3) fire risks; (4) adaptation to climate change and the retreat of glaciers; (5) managing human-wildlife conflict; and (6) the need to maintain wildlife migration corridors.
The State Party did not submit a state of conservation report as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session. However, a joint UNESCO/IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited Kenya from 21 to 24 October 2008 to assess the state of conservation of the Mount Kenya World Heritage property, and in particular examine issues of concern raised by the World Heritage Committee.
During the three day field visit, the mission carried out an aerial reconnaissance and visited lower-lying parts of the forest/national reserve which serve as a buffer zone to the property. The mission concluded that the effectiveness of the management of the property appeared to be higher than at any time since the property was listed, and that most of the concerns of the World Heritage Committee were already being addressed by the management authorities. The World Heritage property covers about half the broader Mount Kenya protected area, and is limited to the upper reaches of the mountain. Consequently, most of the issues facing the broader ecosystem (which were brought to the World Heritage Committee’s attention at its 32nd session) have only indirect impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. Fencing of the lower boundary of the forest/national reserve to protect local community cropland from wildlife, for example, has not encroached on the boundaries of the property, as previously thought.
In respect of the specific issues raised in the 2008 state of conservation report, the mission found that:
- Work on the controversial fencing programme (which is intended to mitigate crop damage problems by creating a barrier between the forest/national reserve and neighbouring communities) has been halted while a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out.
- The Hombe forest section of the Mount Kenya Forest/National reserve was never settled or excised from the reserve, although it is located in an area destined for commercial forestry plantation development, and most of the natural forest has been cleared. The area is located at the lower limits of the forest/national reserve, quite distant from the World Heritage property.
- Implementation of the management plan has suffered from issues regarding institutional coordination, but these appear to have now been largely overcome with the bringing together of the Wildlife and Forest Services into one Ministry. A comprehensive new draft management plan has been prepared, and will be subject to public consultation and should be completed during 2009.
- Two new water bowsers have recently been purchased and fire fighting capacity has modestly improved. There is a need to further enhance site management capacity, particularly that of the Kenya Forest Service, which manages much of the buffer zone.
- Climate change, the retreat of the glaciers and the development of wildlife migration corridors are intimately linked to the broader ecosystem approach to site management that the authorities have initiated by drafting the ‘Mount Kenya Integrated Ecosystem management plan 2009-2019’. However, little on-the-ground management action has been undertaken to secure and enhance degraded habitats in important areas, such as the ‘neck’ of remaining forest leading to the Imenti and Thegu forests.
There are concerns for the long-term conservation of the property’s values in relation to climate change. Glaciers are melting and some have completely disappeared. The State Party is encouraged to ensure comprehensive monitoring of climate change and implement management practices that support ecosystem adaptation. The mission strongly endorsed the recommendation of the 2003 joint UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission to extend the property so as to include as much as possible of the lower-lying undisturbed natural forest. Such an extension could increase the resilience of the ecosystem by enhancing the wildlife and vegetation to adapt to climate change by migrating, possibly to higher elevations. A comprehensive list of recommendations has been developed and is presented within the mission report (http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/33COM/documents). The most important recommendations are presented in the draft decision.
The NGOs Earth Justice and the Australian Climate Justice Program sent to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN a petition, on 29 January 2009, entitled “The Role of Black Carbon in Endangering World Heritage Sites Threatened by Glacial Melt and Sea Level Rise”. The petition “calls on the World Heritage Committee to take action to protect the Outstanding Universal Values of World Heritage Sites most vulnerable to global warming”. In particular, this petition highlights properties protecting glaciers, although it does not mention specifically Mount Kenya (the nearby Mount Kilimanjaro is mentioned), the issue of "black carbon" is relevant also to this property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are satisfied by the progress made by the State Party in addressing threats and management issues in the property; however, it is noted that the Outstanding Universal Value of this property is affected by climate change. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN encourage the State Party to discuss approaches to climate change adaptation with other State Parties, which also have Mountain World Heritage properties affected by melting glaciers and changing mountain vegetation zones.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also welcome the efforts of the State Party to clarify the boundaries and zoning of the property and enlarge the National Park. They recommend the State Party to evaluate, in cooperation with the Centre and IUCN, and reflect these changes in the boundaries of the property by proposing an extension.