Mount Elgon National Park, Kenya
Mount Elgon is a large extinct volcano that straddles the border between Kenya and Uganda (map). Reaching a height of 4,320 metres and extending over 100 km in diameter, Mount Elgon is the largest, although not the highest of Kenya’s mountains. On the Kenyan side of the border, 340 square kilometers of the mountain has been set aside as a National park, preserving a wide range of natural vegetation in an otherwise intensively cultivated area.
The mountains invites exploration, as you wind your way through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen trees, including magnificent specimens of the East African Cedar and the Podo, both reaching upwards of 30 metres. Branches are frequently festooned with lichen and a tangle of wild orchids.
With luck, one will observe both Black & White Colobus and the Blue Monkey, as well as the Giant Forest Hog, and Red Forest Duiker. Many leopards inhabit the park as do buffalo and waterbuck. A wide range of birds, including the rare Forest Francolin make Mount Elgon a bird watchers’ delight. The flora of the forest floor are also interesting for botanists and many rare species of flower may be found.
Hiking to the peak of the mountain, visitors pass through firstly forests, leading into glades of Montane Bamboo, open woodlands and finally open moorlands leading to the craggy summit. The walk to the peak (no technical skills required) provides an exceptionally beautiful experience, offering views of Giant Groundsels and Giant Lobelias, survivors of a remote ice age, as well as endless vistas over the African landscape.
Mount Elgon is also well-known for its four explorable caves, formed by the action of water on ancient volcanic ash. These caves play a vital and unique role in the lives of forest animals. Families and sometimes entire villages of the El Gonyi, a Masai tribe, lived for centuries in the caves with their cattle.
The minerals contained in the rocks of the caves are vital to the well-being of cattle and other grazing animals. High rainfall in this area has denuded the soil of natural salts and minerals and the caves provide the only source of salt. Elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, waterbuck, duiker, forest hogs, even the Colobus and Blue Monkeys need a ration of salt from time to time, and on Mount Elgon, they find it only in the caves.
A fascinating area, Mount Elgon National Park is one of the few Parks where walking explorations are possible and the area is especially enjoyable for hikers and bird-watchers.