The Mount Kenya ecosystem is located to the east of the Great Rift Valley, along Latitude 0' 10'S and longitude 37' 20'E. It bestrides the equator in the central highland zones of Kenya. The ecosystem is situated in two provinces and five districts of Kenya. Nyeri and Kirinyaga Districts in Central Province and Meru Central, Meru South and Embu Districts in Eastern Province.
At 5,199 m, Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa. It is an ancient extinct volcano, during whose period of activity (3.1-2.6 million years ago) it is thought to have risen to 6,500 m. There are 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain, all receding rapidly, and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the U-shaped glacial valleys. With its rugged glacier-clad summits and forested middle slopes, Mount Kenya is one of the most impressive landscapes in East Africa. The evolution and ecology of its afro-alpine flora also provide an outstanding example of ecological processes. There are about 20 glacial tarns (small lakes) of varying sizes and numerous glacial moraine features between altitudes 3,950m and 4,800m above sea level.
Geologically, Mt. Kenya was formed by tertially to Pleistocene volcanic activity between 2.6 and 3.1 millions ago (Baker, 1967). The activities of the central vent generally ceased about 2 million years ago. However, there have been more recent eruptions on the eastern side resulting in the formation of Ithangune and Mugi hills. Originally, the crater would have exceeded 6,500 meters but is now in a state of advanced dissection.
Mt. Kenya is the source of two of Kenya's largest rivers, the Tana and Ewaso Nyiro producing 50% of the entire flow of the Tana River, the largest and most important river basin in Kenya. About 50% of Kenyans rely on water that originates from the mountain and it provides 70% of the country's hydroelectric power.
Mount Kenya ecosystem constitutes an important reservoir for biodiversity. Over 880 plant species belonging to 479 genera in 146 families have been recorded in the forests of Mount Kenya. There are at least 11 strictly endemic species of higher plants and more than 150 species that are near endemic.
The central rocky peak area (Nival belt) lies above 4,419 m. a.s.l. Between 4,418m and 3,400m is a belt of Afro-alpine vegetation characterized by tussock grass, lobelia and giant groundsel. The lower part of the alpine belt also referred to as Ericaceous belt lies between 3,400 and 3,600 m and is mainly covered with giant heather and Hypericum revolutum trees.
Below the afro-alpine zone, one of the marked forest zones is the bamboo forest, which occurs between 2400, and 3000m asl and extends to the western slopes of the mountain This forest is dominated by Arundinaria alpina. 'Podo' forest occurs at altitudes 2400-2800m and is dominated by Podocarpus latifolio mixed with Muxia congesta at lower altitudes.
Some rare and restricted forest types occur at lower altitudes: Moist Ocotea forests; (Ocotea usambarensis) occur between 1500 and 2400m on the southern and south-eastern slopes and are the largest surviving blocks. Newtonia forest in the lower Imenti forest east of Meru and on the eastern slopes at lower altitudes is rare in Kenya and occurs as impoverished remnants in the ecosystem.
Mammals of conservation interest in the ecosystem include the six rare or threatened species; African elephant (Loxodontia Africana): Mount Kenya ecosystem supports the countries largest remaining forest population of elephants estimated between 1200-2000 individuals. Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) are extremely rare and currently there are few individuals remaining. Leopard (Panthera pardus), Giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni), Bongo (Tragelaphus euryceros): This African antelope is extremely rare Black fronted duiker (Cephalophus nigrifrons hooki). There are over ten species of ungulates in Mt. Kenya ecosystem. These include the duiker (Neotrragus moschatus), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), deffassa Water Buck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula), bush pig (Potamochoerus porcus), the common zebra (Equus burchelli), eland (Tragelaphus oryx), steinbok (Raphicerus campestris), Harveys red duiker (cephalophus Harveyi); a forest sub species and the common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia altivallis), a moorland sub-species.
Several primates are found in Mt. Kenya ecosystem, the most common being the black and White Colobus (Colobus guereza) and Sykes monkey (Cercopithecus mitis). The olive baboon (Papio anubis), The lesser bush baby (Galago senegalenses) and greater bush baby (Galago crassicaudatus) have also been recorded in the ecosystem. Large carnivores other than the leopard (Panthera pardus) found within the ecosystem are the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), and the striped hyena (Hyena hyena). On the grasslands carnivores such as cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), wildcat (Felis lybica), serval (Felis serval) and black backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) have been recorded. Other small carnivores include; genet (Genetta tigrina) and civet (Civettictis civetta).
The most commonly sighted small mammals include the giant pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus), giant cane rat (Thryonomys swinderianus), mole rat (Tachyoryctes rex), zorilla (Ictonyx striatus albescens). The tree hyrax (Dendrohyrax arboreus). The squirrels found in the forests include the Huet's bush squirrel (Paraxerus ochraceus kahari) and the red-legged sun squirrel (Heliosciurus rufobrachium). Others are the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) and the porcupine (Hystrix cristata).
Mount Kenya is an important bird area and home to the threatened and little known Abbott's starling. 53 out of Kenya's 67 African highland biome bird species, at least 35 forest specialist species and six of the 8 species from Kenyan Mountains Endemic Bird Area reportedly occur in Mt. Kenya ecosystem. Some of the bird species found within the ecosystem are; Ayres' hawk eagle (Hieraaetus dubius), crowned hawk eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), hartlaub's turaco (Turaco hartlaubi), Jackson's francolin (Francolinus jacksoni), scaly francolin (Francolinus squamatus), silvery cheeked-hornbill (Ceratogymna brevis), bronze-naped pigeon (Columba iriditorques), rufous-breasted hawk (Accipiter tachiro). Other birds include the harmercop (Scopus umbretta), green ibis (Lambribis olivaceae), olive pigeon (Colomba arquatrix), giant kingfisher (Megacerryle maxima), crowned hornbill (Tockus alboterminatus) and grey-headed kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) among other common birds.
Cultural and historical importance
Mount Kenya has spiritual and religious importance for local communities living adjacent to the ecosystem for many years and many cultural beliefs, traditional ceremonies relate to the mountain. Mt Kenya has been regarded as a shrine of important cultural value. The Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people term the mountain as the traditional home for their God (Murungu/Ngai), whose presence is associated with the peaks of the Mountain. The sacred areas include hills (Kirima Kiamatu, Kirima Ntue, Kirima Kiamwioko and Kirima Kiamagimbi), the peaks of the mountain, lakes (Nkunga and Thae), caves and rivers. Many tree species of the ecosystem including the Ficus sur (Mukuu), Ficus thonningii (Mugumo), Indogofera erecta (Muthaara) among others are considered sacred and are used during performance of various rituals and ceremonies. Burguret forest to the east and south of Mount Kenya served as hideout for Mau-mau freedom fighters waging war against British colonial masters in the 1950s.
Proposal for expansion
Kenya proposes the expansion of the boundary of the world heritage site and expansion of the criteria to include the cultural and traditional values of Mt. Kenya as a shrine to a large number of communities in central Kenya. This expansion and extension of the criteria for listing will enhance the protection of the property as a world heritage site and improve the conservation status of the mountain. This will also expand the natural, cultural and intrinsic value and create greater benefits to communities and the world.
Satements of authenticity and/or integrity
Mt. Kenya is a protected National Park through gazettement. It has also been regarded as a shrine of important cultural value by the surrounding communities who have several sacred grooves such as Kirima Kiamatu, Kirima Ntue, Kirima Kiamwioko and Kirima Kiamagimbi) and lakes such as Nkunga and Thae in the mountain.
The Mountain is one of Kenya's major water catchment areas, surrounded for the most part by intensive, small-scale agriculture. The high moorland is well protected and appears relatively safe, but habitat on the lower slopes has been severely damaged in recent years. Forest destruction and degradation is the major threat to the site, through agricultural encroachment, illegal Cannabis sativa gardens, poaching of valuable trees and forest grazing of livestock. Forest fires, either accidental or deliberately set (especially by honey collectors), have destroyed or damaged large tracts of forest during recent dry periods.
Comparison with other similar properties
Mt. Kenya is one of the most impressive mountains in Africa. In comparison with other mountains of the same height in the world, Mt. Kenya has far more several sacred grooves than the rest.