God’s resting place – the sacred mountain of Kenya

12 July 2010 | Fact sheet

Mount Kenya National Park

Background

Mount Kenya National Park (MKNP) is one of the most impressive landscapes of East Africa. It is located to the east of the Great Rift Valley, about 175km North-East of Nairobi in Central and Eastern provinces of Kenya. At 5,199m the mountain is the second highest peak in Africa. The park is composed of a forest and an extinct volcano named Mount Kenya, from which the name of the country was derived. Kenya means 'God’s resting place' in all three of the original languages of the indigenous people of the area. For them, Mount Kenya is of high spiritual significance. The Gikuyu and Embu believed that God lived on Mount Kenya when he came down from the sky and therefore they build their houses with the doors facing the mountain. The Masai believed their ancestors came from the mountain. A protected area since 1949, it became a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1973 and a world heritage site in 1997. It is managed by Kenya Wildlife Service.

View photos of the Park

Size: 715 km2

Flora and Fauna

The park can be divided into five main zones of different vegetation. First - the rainforest, which differs from other zones mostly due to its rainfall intensity, and which is home to most of the species of the park. Secondly, the bamboo belt, which stops most species from migrating further up. Next comes the timberline forest, above which the vegetation changes into heathland and chaparral, followed by the afro-alpine zone, where temperature fluctuations are extreme and only some endemic species such as the giant groundsels and loblilias can adapt to it.

The first zone of the park harbours most of the species including monkeys, antelopes, tree hyrax, porcupines, leopards, hyenas, buffalos, lions and a healthy population of elephants. Only the larger animals such as elephants and lions traverse the bamboo belt.  Smaller mammals, such as the groove-toothed ratin, can mostly be found in the timberline forest above the bamboo belt. The mole rat lives in the higher altitude of Mount Kenya. In the Afro Alpine Zone, birds such as sunbirds, alpine chats and Verreaux eagles are more present than mammals.

Threats

Threats to the park are mostly due to foresting of precious wood and poaching. The human population at the limit of the park is also encroaching on the park. The Kenyan Government has received funds from developed countries to ensure a better protection of the park.

Why should we protect the area?

In 1949, the Kenyan Government decided to protect Mount Kenya for 4 reasons which are still valid. First of all, as the park receives about 15,000 visitors a year, it is very important for the tourism industry, which is essential for local and national economies. Secondly, the area is worth preserving for its great scenic beauty: it is considered to be one of the most dramatic landscapes of Eastern Africa. Mt Kenya is also very important for biodiversity conservation, as it is home to most of Africa’s 'big five', and it is also one of the few areas in Africa with a flourishing wild elephant population. And finally, it is important to proect the area for its watershed, which not only provides water for 50% of Kenya's population but also supplies 70% of its electricity.