Located in north eastern Tanzania, near the Kenyan border, Mt Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak standing at 5,895 meters above sea level. It is the largest free-standing mountain rise in the world, meaning it is not part of a mountain range.
Kilimanjaro lies about 160 km east of the East African Rift System and about 225 km south of Nairobi, Kenya. The massif extends approximately east-west for 80 km and consists of three principal extinct volcanoes: Kibo at the centre, Mawensi on the east and Shira on the west. Kibo, the youngest and highest, retains the form of a typical volcanic cone and crater and is linked by a 11 km saddle at about 4,500 meters. Mawensi is 5,149 meters and is the older core of a former summit. Shira ridge (3,962 meters) is a remnant of an earlier crater. Below the saddle, Kilimanjaro slopes in a typical volcanic curve to the plains below, which lie at an elevation of about 1,000 meters.
The breathtaking snow-clad dome of Kibo contains a caldera on its southern side that is 2 km across and some 300 meters deep, with an inner cone that displays residual volcanic activity. Mawensi’s cone is highly eroded, jagged, and precipitous and is cleft east and west by gorges. Only Kibo retains a permanent ice cap. Mawensi has semi-permanent ice patches and substantial seasonal snow. Kilimanjaro is also called a stratovolcano (a term for a very large volcano made of ash, lava, and rock) not currently active, with fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit of Kibo. Although new activity is not expected, there are fears the volcano may collapse, causing a major eruption. In 1889, German geographer Hans Meyer and Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller became the first people on record to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. Since then, Kilimanjaro has become a popular hiking spot for locals and tourists.
In 1973 Mount Kilimanjaro National Park was established to protect the mountain above the tree line as well as the six forest corridors that extend downslope through the montane forest belt. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Kilimanjaro has a succession of vegetation zones consisting of (from base to summit) the semiarid scrub of the surrounding plateau; the massif’s cultivated, well-watered southern slopes; dense cloud forest; open moorland; alpine desert; and moss and lichen communities.
The forests of the southern slopes and surrounding areas are home to elephants, buffalo, and eland (ox like antelopes). Smaller mammals inhabiting the forests include black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, and bushbuck and duikers (small African antelopes). The forests also host a rich variety of birdlife, including the rare Abbot’s starling.