Zones & Belts
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Mt. Kenya Zones & Belts

There are distinct vegetation zones around Mount Kenya which vary according to altitude and aspect. The climate of Mount Kenya changes considerably with altitude, forming belts of community types been able to colonise.

OCOTEA FORESTS:  Between approximately 2100 – 2400 Metres

Mount Kenya is surrounded by forests. The vegetation in the forests depends on rainfall, and the species present differ greatly between the northern and southern slopes. As time has passed the trees on the edge of the forest have been logged and the farmland has encroached further up the fertile slopes of the mountain

BAMBO ZONE: Between approximately 2400- 2850 Metres
Above the forest is a belt of bamboo. This zone is almost continuous, but is restricted to small isolated bunches in the north because of low rainfall. The bamboo is natural, and does not require forest disturbance. Tracks are common through the bamboo. Bamboo suppresses other vegetation, so it is uncommon to find trees or other plants here.

HYGENIA – HYPERICUM ZONE: Also known as the Timberline Zone which is a high altitude rain forest between approximately 2850 – 3000 metres. Above the bamboo is the timberline forest. The trees here are often smaller than the trees in the forests lower down the mountain. The forest here is more intact, because it is less accessible and better protected. The timberline forest is commonly in cloud. The trees are relatively small and covered in lichens and mosses.
As the altitude increases the temperature fluctuations become extreme and the air becomes thinner and drier.

HEATHLAND AND CHAPARRAL ZONE above 3000 – 3300 metres Also known as Giant Heather zone with giant heaths or bushes and tussock grass from. When the trees can no longer grow ,the vegetation changes into heath land and chaparral, at around 3,000 m (9,800 ft).  Heath land is found in the wetter areas, on the west side of Mount Kenya, and is dominated by giant heathers. Chaparral is found in the drier areas and grasses are more common and bush fires still occur.

THE ALPINE ZONE: Between about 3300 – 4350 metres is the home of many unique high altitude plants such as protea, helichrysums, ostrich plum lobelia the giant lobelia, senecios, groundsel and the very the expansive fields of tussock grass which is the main cover of the Alpine Zone.

THE NIVAL ZONE:  Above 4350 metres to the top of the mountain, It is the area that plants have not yet been able to colonise .this is the Zone of rock and ice, vegetation is only present in the most sheltered situations and for the most part, the slopes are of bare gravel and scree from which the glaciers have only recently retreated

The flora and fauna has adapted to the environmental conditions of the equatorial mountain. The high rainfall and mild temperatures characteristics of the lower slopes of the mountain sustain luxurious growth of the forest. Similarly plants of higher elevation are and alpine zone adapted to exist under the harsh climatic regime of the upper slopes.

Many plants that live on Mount Kenya, like this Senecio keniodendron, have to be specially adapted to the extremes in temperature. The flora found on Mount Kenya varies with altitude, aspect and exposure. As the altitude increases, the plants have to be more specialised, with adaptations to strong sunlight with ultraviolet, lower mean temperatures and freezing night temperatures.
Plants in the Afro-alpine zone have overcome these difficulties in several ways. One adaptation is known as the giant rosette, which is exhibited by giant senecio, giant lobelia and giant thistle (Carduus), which use bud leaves to protect their buds from freezing. Giant rosette senecios form single-aged stands that drive community structure over decades. Many plant species in the Afro-alpine zone of Mount Kenya are giant versions of lowland (or temperate) relatives. However, nearer the nival zone the plants decrease in size again.

Safari ants swarm around the forest in long columns. They are easiest to see when they cross the tracks. The majority of animals live lower down on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Here there is more vegetation and the climate is less extreme. Various species of monkeys, several antelopes, tree hyrax, porcupines and some larger animals such as elephant and buffalo all live in the forest. Predators found here include hyena and leopard,
Smaller animals include the attractive sykes monkeys, the black and white Columbus Monkey, the black-faced vervet, the black tipped or slender mongoose and few diurnal mongooses can be seen during the day. Other animals include defassa waterbuck and the Burch ells zebras. In the moorland is the black backed jackals and hunting dogs. Elephants, buffaloes, rhino and eland seem to migrate up the mountain into the Alpine zone where leopards are permanent residents in the Alpine valleys.

Birds are also plentiful. Among the larger birds of prey, the following can be seen: the white-, the crowned hawk, eagle, the crested eagle, its beautiful red tail. Some of the great birds of prey include: the great sparrow hawk and the African goshawk, the mountain buzzard and augur buzzard with backed vultures, lammergeier and Verreaux eagle, the latter of which specializes in hunting hyraxes. Several other bird species live in the Afro-alpine zone, including sunbirds, alpine chats and starlings and the raptors Birds are important in this ecosystem as pollinators.
Also there are fewer mammals found at high altitudes on Mount Kenya. The Mount Kenya hyrax and common duiker are able to live here, and are important to the ecosystem. Some smaller mammals, such as the groove-toothed rat, can live here by burrowing into the giant senecios and using their thick stem of dead leaves as insulation. The Mount Kenya mole-rat Tachyoryctes rex occurs at high altitudes, living in visible mounds. Leopards is resident in the alpine zone while  Hyrax  are able to cope with a more extreme climate and are found up to the highest vegetation.

'Exceeding your Expectations'

University of Nairobi