In the East African mountains, vegetation frequently appears in a series of altitudinal zones. On Mount Kenya, where it emerges from the surrounding savanna (grassland with scattered shrubs or trees) and begins on the lower slopes with a crescent of cultivated land, this succession is highly developed. The montane forest stretches from roughly 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet above sea level and is home to big trees including camphor and different figs, cedar, yellowwood, and the East African olive. The forest consists of montane bamboo from around 8,000 feet, and parkland and low thicket surround the succeeding zone of gigantic heather at its top limit.
The heather zone gives place to the Afro-Alpine zone between 11,000 and 12,000 feet, where tree groundsel and gigantic lobelia emerge from a ground vegetation of tussocky grassland and everlastings (composite plants, the flowers of which can be dried without loss of colour or form). Mosses and lichens may live up to 15,000 feet, but above that point, naked rock and ice are exposed.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s montane vegetation is drier than Mount Kenya’s. There is no parks zone, and bamboo is scarce, despite its abundance on neighboring Mount Meru. The heather zone is well-represented, but blooming plants are few in the Alpine semidesert.
Mount Elgon, like the Aberdare Range’s peaks, reaches into the Afro-Alpine zone. The lower slopes of the Ruwenzori meet the equatorial forest in the northwest, and the flora is moister and more luxuriant than in the eastern highlands. The Virunga Mountains extend into the heather zone and, in the three highest volcanoes, into the Afro-Alpine zone above the bamboo forest and woodland parkland.
The East African mountains have a distinctive Afro-Alpine vegetation. Cold-loving plants fled to the mountains in post-Pleistocene periods (about 11,700 years ago) when temperatures rose, where they were conserved and somewhat altered.
Despite the vast distances between the mountains, flora in the different Afro-Alpine zones are very similar. All of the mountains have lobelia and Alchemilla (lady’s mantle) species, while tree groundsel species are only found in neighboring mountains. Giantism is a regular occurrence, while dwarfism occurs only at the highest elevations.
The montane forest is home to elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalo, antelope, hyrax, bush pigs, and monkeys, notably the black-and-white colobus. Because of its lack of bamboo forest and remoteness from the mountains to the north, the bongo (forest antelope) and the big forest hog have not been seen on Kilimanjaro. The Virunga Mountains are home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, while the Ruwenzori Range is home to chimps. Trout have been introduced to the more accessible alpine streams.
Upper forest mammals, such as the leopard and antelope like the duiker and eland, make their way into the moorland and Afro-Alpine zones, where the hyrax and groove-toothed rat are the most visible residents. The scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird, a songbird, and the lammergeier (one of the biggest birds of prey, resembling the eagle and vulture) are among the birds (a small, brilliantly coloured songbird). Animal life, like flora, displays similarities that point to a shift in distribution from the bordering plateaus to the refugee montane islands.
The People of the East African Mountains
The population is restricted to the lower slopes, with habitation reaching a maximum altitude of around 7,000 feet. Bananas and millet are widely grown subsistence crops, but coffee is a valuable commercial crop. The Chaga (Chagga) people of Kilimanjaro’s southern and eastern slopes have long relied on an excellent irrigation system based on the mountain’s ridge-and-valley relief. On the slopes of the Aberdare Range and around the southern and eastern edges of Mount Kenya, high population densities among the Chaga are matched by those among the Kikuyu and allied tribes. The Gisu have thickly populated below the forest zone on the western slopes of Mount Elgon.
On each side of the Ruwenzori’s northern snout, population density is significant; the Konjo hillmen reside mostly on the range’s eastern flank. The Pygmy Twa live in the Virunga Mountains’ woods, which are cultivated by the considerably more numerous Hutu on the lower slopes.
Tourism in the East African Mountains
Mountains are a popular tourist destination. Mount Kenya above 10,200 feet, the Aberdares moorland zone, and a section of the Kenyan part of Mount Elgon are among the parks that encompass the mountain from 6,000 feet to the peak. The Kigezi Gorilla Game Reserve is located on the northern slopes of Mounts Muhavura and Mgahinga in Uganda’s Virunga Mountains (Gahinga). Gorillas are protected in the Volcanoes National Park and the Virunga National Park, respectively, in the Rwandan and Congolese parts of the Virunga Mountains.
Where are the East African Mountains
The Ruwenzori Mountains act as a barrier to east-west travel, and road connections between Uganda and Congo cross via the range to the south. The main highways are deflected to their northern and southern flanks by the Mau Escarpment and the Aberdare Range, though each is traversed by a subsidiary road. The Nyeri ridge, located between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, serves as a northern entrance. Mounts Kenya and Elgon have round paths, and the bases of all the mountains are relatively accessible.