Hell’s Gate National Park

Kenya
Date of Submission: 30/06/2023
Criteria: (viii)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
National Museums of Kenya
State, Province or Region:
Nakuru County
Coordinates: latitude -0.885374 longitude 36.299164
Ref.: 6661

Description

The Hell’gate National Park (HGNP) is located in Nakuru County, Kenya. Hell's Gate National Park is a park located between Lake Naivasha and the Longonot and Suswa volcanoes. It is covered by ashes from the Longonot eruption which occurred 100 years ago, the park is famous for its geothermal station, Lower Gorge, and spectacular sceneries of towering cliffs, scrub clad volcanoes, water-gouged gorges, and plumes of geothermal steam.The name Hell’s Gate is derived from the most impressive feature in the Park, the Ol Jorowa Gorge, which runs through the middle of the park. The gorge formed the overflow of Lake Naivasha between lower and middle Cambrian times. The Park was gazetted under legal notice number 13 of 2 February, 1984 and covers 68.25 Km².  Its boundaries are delineated on boundary plan number 204/55. 

There are significant geomorphological and biological resources. These resources include the Ol Jorowa gorge (caused by the volcanic disturbances of the Great Rift Valley), Obsidian caves, Fischer’s and the central towers, which are the physiographic basis of the park; the floral and faunal communities, and its fragile soils.

Vegetation: The flora of the HGNP falls into two broad physiognomic types namely; plains and high-ground vegetation types.  The Park feature grassland dominated by red oat grass (Themeda triandra) and whistling thorn bush (Acacia drepanolobium) up to 1800m. In the high ground (above 1,800m) are the dense leleshwa (Tarchonanthus camphoratus).

The Acacia drepanolobium (Whistling thorn) woodland is the most abundant acacia species and forms an important source of food for the giraffes. The leleshwa Tarchonanthus camophratus woodland is important in that it provides cover and habitat for other fauna components.

The Red stinkwood (Prunus africana) and the East African Sandalwood (Osyris lanceolata) are important plants. The Red Stinkwood is classified as vulnerable by IUCN. It has various medicinal uses and its timber used for the manufacture of various household products such as axes, hoes, and furniture. The East African Sandalwood (Osyris lanceolata) is a shrub or small tree found across a vast range of Africa and Asia as well as parts of Europe. It is classified by IUCN as of Least Concern. However, there are concerns that subpopulations are being over-exploited in parts of its range due to its scented wood (sandalwood) and essential oil.

Fauna: Giraffe, eland, hartebeest, buffalo and other small gazelles and antelopes are common in the grassy plains. Lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) also occur but are rare. There are small troops of klipspringer and rock hyrax, both living in rocky areas. The rare Chanler's mountain reedbuck is also present here. The park counts 103 species of birds and the cliffs are home and nesting places for birds, which are abundant at Lake Naivasha. The large white droppings on the rocks indicate nests of vulture, eagles and augur buzzard. Rare species are the Verreaux's eagle and the Lammergeyer, Ruppel's griffon and hooded vultures have been recorded. Key endangered fauna includes the Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi). Masai Giraffe is listed by IUCN as Endangered due to an estimated decline of 49-51% over three generations (30 years). The Chanler’s Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula chanleri) is listed as endangered by IUCN. The Leopard (Panthera pardus) is listed as vulnerable by IUCN and is included in CITES Appendix I.

Several raptors breed within Hell’s Gate National Park. These include the white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) which is listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN, and has been recorded to fly to the Maasai Mara to forage there. Other raptors recorded include the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Ruppell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli) which was up listed by IUCN from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2015 due to severe declines in parts of its range. Hell’s Gate National Park hosts the only protected Ruppell’s vulture colonies in Kenya and the second most important habitat in southern Kenya.The raptors’ populations have declined due to disturbances from humans, lead poisoning, direct poisoning, electrocution (by powerlines), collisions with wind turbines, reduced food availability, and habitat change.

Other threatened birds include the Grey-crested Helmet-shrike. This species is listed as Near Threatened by IUCN; the Secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is classified as Vulnerable by IUCN.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The natural geographic formations found at the Hell's gate national park i.e., Fisher Tower, Obsidian Caves, and the Ol Jorowa Gorge and the adjacent Mt Longonot led to the spectacular landscapes. The Park is a biodiversity hotspot in the middle of an extremely important geothermal field hence supporting the production of green energy.

These geological formations are also the breeding area of the critically endangered white-backed vulture that is known to forage at the Masai Mara National Reserve where it flies daily.

Criterion (viii):
Hell's Gate represents an area of great geological phenomenon (i.e. hot water geysers and hot springs) these land formations and ongoing geological processes at Hell's Gate make the area exceptionally beautiful and unique compared to any other area. The presence of vegetation around the hot water is remarkable as these plants are able to survive in very high temperatures.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Hell's Gate National Park is a protected National Park. All the geological features that make the site stand out are in good condition save for the natural processes of weathering.

Comparison with other similar properties

The on-going geological processes at Hell's gate are similar to the processes at Lake Bogoria national reserve in Kenya, these has made the sites exceptionally beautiful and unique. The natural geographic formations found at the Hell's gate National Park i.e. Fisher tower, Obsidian caves and the Ol Njorowa Gorge can all be compared to the Ethiopian plateau at Simien National Park in Ethiopia, where natural geological processes led to the creation of spectacular landscapes with jagged mountain peaks and deep valleys. Both parks are home to rare species; hells gate is home to the rare Chanler's Mountain reedbuck, Verreaux's eagle, Ruppels griffon and Hooded vultures and the Lammergeyer, while Simian National Park is home to Gelada baboon, the Simien Fox and the Walia ibex.