High in the mist-wreathed hills of western Kenya is a towering volcanic giant, crowned by a vast caldera etched by glacial tarns, honeycombed by labyrinthine caves, fissured by valleys and cascaded by streams. Peaking with Koitoboss (4187m), Kenya’s second-highest peak and Uganda’s Wagagai (4321m), the slopes of Mt Elgon are a sight indeed – or at least they would be if they weren’t buried under a blanket of mist and drizzle most of the time. While there are plenty of interesting wildlife and plants here, the real reason people visit Mt Elgon National Park is to stand atop the summit high above Kenya and Uganda.
The diverse terrain and dramatic ascents of altitude combined with the vagaries of rainfall and weather produce four distinct vegetation zones on Mt. Elgon. They include:-
- The Lush Montane Forest (2000m-2500m): The forest is of the dry, highland evergreen type and includes over 100 species as well as epiphytic orchids, ferns, and trailing lianas. The best place to see this type of forest is on the Chelulus circuit.
- Mixed Bamboo and Podocarpus Zone (3000m-3500m): Together with the forest contain the highest biodiversity on the mountain.
- Heath Zone (3000m-3500m): is characterized by dense scrub, brilliant wildflowers
- Moorland Zone (3500m-4321m): Boasts of the highest number of endemic plants species on the mountain. The open moorland grassland is dotted with clusters of peculiar Giant grounded plus Lobelia plants which are unique to East Africa.
Common animals include buffaloes, bushbucks (both of which are usually grazing on the airstrip near Cholim gate), olive baboons, giant forest hogs and duikers. The lower forests are the habitat of the black-and-white colobus, and blue and de Brazza’s monkeys.
There are more than 240 species of bird here, including red-fronted parrots, Ross’s turacos, and casqued hornbills. On the peaks, you may even see a lammergeier dropping bones from the air.