Mountain Elgon National Park
Mountain Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and Kenya. Its vast form, eighty kilometre in diameter, rises 3070m above the surrounding plains, providing welcome relief in more than one sense of the word. Its mountanious terrain introduces variety to an otherwise monotonous regional landscape. Its cool heights offer respite for human from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provide a refuge for flora and fauna.
Mount Elgon has been a regional landmark for a long time: this extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 20 million years ago. It was once African’s highest mountain, towering above Kilimanjaro’s 5895m. Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4321m, relegating it to 4th highest peak in East Africa (and 7th of the continent). However, its 4000km² surface area is still the largest base of any volcanic mountain worldwide.
Mount Elgon is a hugely important water catchment. Its forests recieve up to 3000mm of rain each year, which they store and release to support flora, fauna and more than a million Ugandans. Elgon’s water is equally important to many Kenyans, for Mount Elgon is bisected by the international boundary. The Mountain’s natural vegetation, and its role as a giant biological sponges, is protected by a Mount Elgon National park on both sides of the border. The Ugandan park, which was upgraded from a forest reserve in 1993, covers1,11okm². Though its Kenyan counterpart measures just 170km2, it is adjoined by a forest reserve and national reserve. These parks and reserves in both countries combine to form a transboundary conservation area covering 2,229km2, which have been declared Man & biosphere Reserves under UNESCO.
Mount Elgon recieves fer fewer visitors than other higher and more famous mountains in East Africa. however as routes on Mts. Kilimanjaro and Kenya become increasingly crowded and degraded, hikers are appreciating Mount Elgon’s deserted moorlands. A climb on Mount Elgon is to explore a magnificient and uncluttered montane wildness without the summit-orieted approach common to higher regional mountains. Indeed the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mount Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai peak, but the descent into the vast 40km2 caldera.
Flore and fauna
The ascent of Mount Elgon passes through a series of roughly concentric vegetation zone. The lower slopes of the mountain are intensively farmed up to the park boundary. The first zone of natural vegetation is montane forest which runs from the park boundary up to 2500m. This is fopllowed by bamboo and low canopy forest (2400-3000m), then high montane heath (3000-3500m) which includes the heather (Phillipea excelsia) growing up to 6m tall. Above 3500m, cold temperatures and fierce winds force the heather to give way to open moorland. Finally, above3800m, dramatic Afroalpine vegetation is found among tussock grasslands and Carex bogs. This rare and spectacular vegetation type is restricted to the upper reaches of East Africa’s highest mountains and includes the giant groundsel (Senecio elgonensis) and the endemic Lobelia elgonensis.
Mount Elgon supports a variety of Wildlife including elephants, buffalo,Defassa’s waterbuck, oribi, bush buck, leopard and spotted hyena. However as is usual in forest enviroments, most of these species are rarey seen. The most commonly seen creatures are black and white colobus, blue monkey, duiker and tree squirrel.
The mountain is nhome to 296 birds including 40 restricted range species. Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include Jackson’s francolin, moustached green tinkerbird, and black collared apalis, the Ugandan ranges of which are limited to Mount Elgon. The broze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turacoand tacazze sunbird are limited to Mount Elgon and a few othermountains in eastern Uganda. Mount Elgon is also one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen , soaring above the caldera and Suam gorge.