Where We Are

Mount Elgon

Ol Doinyo Ilgoon” or “Masawa

The Mount Elgon massive is an isolated mountain ecosystem lying about 140 km northeast of Lake Victoria on the border between Uganda and Kenya. The mountain is an extinct shield volcano and was named after the Elgonyi tribe, who lived on the south side of the mountain until the 20th century. By the Maasai it was called “Ol Doinyo Ilgoon” (Breast Mountain) and on the Ugandan areas it was known as “Masawa“. It is the mountain of the superlatives: Being the oldest volcano of the Great African Rift Valley, covering around 3500 km² – the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world, reaching 4320 metres means being the second highest mountain in Kenya and the fourth highest mountain in East Africa. Even the beautiful caldera is of an impressive size and covers more than 40km² at the top, surrounded by five major peaks.

Mount Elgon plays an important, inter-regional role as a water catchment feeding the waters of Lake Victoria, the Nile River system and Lake Turkana. Annual rainfalls of more than 1250mm provide the water supply for several million people in Uganda and Kenya. This leads UN Environmental Programme to classify the old vulcano as an important “water tower” for the region.

Fertile, deep and well-drained soils of red laterite, in combination with the favourable climate and rainfall offer a significant agricultural potential up to the mid-slopes. The forests are degraded by timber cutting, livestock grazing and poaching as well as the clearing of forested slopes, non suitable for farming. The growing population of around two million, today has almost isolated the Elgon mountain ecosystem from the surrounding landscapes.

Most of the people are subsistence farmers who are living on small farms, called Shambas. Initially, local communities used the forest areas to collect products like fuel wood, timber, honey, bamboo, bush meat and medicinal herbs moreover to practice religious ceremonies. The highest human population density as well as the fastest population growth within Kenya is putting high pressure on this unique montane ecosystem. To date, the mountain is susceptible to deep erosion and dangerous landslides which already showed devastating effects after heavy rainfalls in the 1980th.


Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem

Mount Elgon spans a wide range of vegetation types containing montane forest, wooded grassland, bamboo and afroalpine moorland, zoned by altitude. The climate is moist to moderate dry and the wettest period occurs from April to October with maximum precipitations on forested slopes.

Mount Elgon is home to a globally renowned biodiversity containing threatened as well as a high number of endemic species making the trans-boundary ecosystem of Mount Elgon a priority for species conservation. 22 mammal species in the Mount Elgon area are listed by the IUCN in 1995 as “globally threatened“.

The ecosystem is sheltered through six different protected areas, managed by five different organizations with different conservation concepts. Click here to learn more

Mount Elgon`s protected areas:

  • Mt. Elgon National Park (Kenya), ~170 km²
  • Mt. Elgon Forest Reserve (Kenya), ~500 km²
  • Trans-Nzoia Forest Reserve (Kenya), ~230 km²
  • Cheptikale National Reserve (Kenya) ~160 km²
  • Mt. Elgon National Park (Uganda) ~1145 km²
  • Namatale Forest Reserve (Uganda), ~0.46 km²
Elgons protected area
Source: Ruderaas, Magnus (2011): Implementing new governance strategies for protected ares : Analysis of the transboundary conservation program on Mt Elgon in Uganda and Kenya. Master Thesis, Msc. Degree in Development Studies
The Mount Elgon Regional Ecosystem Conservation Programme (MERECP), introduced by IUCN, is actually implementing a trans-boundary management strategy for the whole area. It is the first effort to implement such strategy in the region and it will therefore act as a model and pioneer programme for trans-boundary management in East Africa.

The combined park, consisting of all Ugandan and Kenyan areas will be sufficiently large to host viable populations of large mammal species which are vulnerable to extinction in smaller National Parks.