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ecoDestinations - Kenya
Kenya has a remarkable landscape characterized by savannahs full of majestic animals, pristine beaches bordered by coral reefs, searing deserts, and beautiful snow-capped mountains. Its history, arts, and architecture consist of a unique fusion of local pastoralists, Arab traders, and European colonialists. In Kenya, there is something for everyone to experience and love.
In Kenya there are 5 biodiversity hot spots and 61 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). These unique ecosystems include the Indian Ocean islands of Lamu and Kisite, the Afro-montane forests of Mount Kenya, the equatorial forests, the coral reefs, saline and freshwater lakes, and the northern dry lands. Kenya’s known biodiversity species includes 7,000 plants, 25,000 invertebrates, 1,133 birds, 315 mammals, 191 reptiles, 180 freshwater fish, 692 marine fish, 88 amphibians, and 2,000 species of fungi and bacteria. Kenya is particularly famous for large mammals like the African elephant, the black rhino, the leopard, and the African lion.
Birds play an especially important role in Kenya’s landscape, attracting international ornithologists. Endangered and threatened birds found in Kenya include the Madagascar pond-heron, the Saker falcon, the Egyptian vulture, the Sokoke scops-owl, and the Basra reed-warbler. Kenya’s lakes and their surrounding wetlands play a vital role as a stopover for the migratory route of thousands of birds. However, biodiversity assessments are nearly two decades old, which is a significant challenge for conservation efforts.
Biodiversity performs an important role in the daily lives of locals through food security, tourism, and cultural traditions. Like many countries in Africa, Kenya’s protected areas were established by colonial governments for the purposes of big game hunting and resource extraction. Many of the local communities were not consulted about these demarcation lines and were thus alienated from their sources of food, medicine, wood and water.
Throughout the last few decades Kenya has been experiencing biodiversity degradation due to many factors such as encroaching human settlements, pollution, and unsustainable resource extraction. Climate change is another factor as Kenya’s fragile ecosystems experience severe droughts. These long dry spells have coincided with high numbers of animal carcasses. Another factor is poaching. Animals threatened by this are the African elephant, the African lion, the black rhino, the cheetah and the green sea turtle. As an example, in the early 1970s, Kenya was home to 20,000 black and white rhinos; now, the number is at about 900. Poaching is driven by poverty, lucrative markets, and the incapacity of governments to regulate anti-poaching laws.
Those who identify as indigenous in Kenya are mainly pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, such as the Turkana, Rendille, Maasai, Ogiek, Sengwer, and Yaaku. Both pastoralists and hunter-gatherers face land and resource insecurity, poor political representation, discrimination, and exclusion. For example, the Sengwer, have lived, hunted, and gathered in the Embobut Forest for hundreds of years. However, since the 1970s, the Kenyan government has made repeated attempts to forcibly evict the Sengwer from the forest for resettlement in other areas in order to pursue forest and water conservation objectives. Unfortunately, Kenya has no legislation on indigenous peoples and abstained from the vote when the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted in 2007.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Fort Jesus: Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Fort Jesus was Europe’s first successful attempt to rule the Indian Ocean trade routes. The structure of the fort reflects Renaissance military architecture, as well as influences from the African, Arab, Turkish, and Persian cultures, all of which fought to gain control over this strategic fort.
Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley: Surrounded by hot springs, geysers and volcanic outcrops, this area, consisting of Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita, has some of the highest concentrations of bird species in the world. The area is home to over 100 species of migratory birds including Black-Necked Grebe, African Spoonbill, Pied Avocet, and Full Billed Tern. Throughout the year, 4 milllion Lesser Flamingos move between the three shallow lakes foraging for food. It is also an important nesting and breeding ground for the Great White Pelicans. All of this makes the area a critical component for conservation efforts, yet there are considerable threats including degradation of land, growth in human settlements, deforestation, overgrazing, and unsustainable tourism and pollution.
Lamu Old Town: Founded in the 14th century by Arab traders in ivory, spices, and slaves, Lamu is Kenya’s oldest town and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. The town’s architecture reflects a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles. Structures, such as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors were built out of coral stone and mangrove timber. Its streets are too narrow for cars, so the best modes of transportation are either by donkey or by dhow, a traditional wooden sailing vessel. It is highly recommended to hire one out for a cruise around the Lamu archipelago.
Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests: Consisting of 11 separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast, the Mijikenda Kaya Forests contains the ruins of numerous kayas, or fortified villages of the Mijikenda people. The kayas were constructed in the 16th century but abandoned in the 1940s as people began to move away to surrounding towns and cities. The immediate impact was deforestation of the surrounding areas. Similar sites on land that was once considered communal was registered to individual owners and sold to national or foreign speculators. The Mijikenda now regard these dwellings as the homes of their ancestors and are thus revered as sacred sites.
Hell’s Gate National Park: The borders of Hell’s Gate National Park extend from Lake Naivasha to the Longonot and Suswa volcanoes with spectacular sceneries of cliffs, volcanic gorges and geothermal steam. Near the main entrance to the park is Fishcer Tower, a 25 m (75 ft) rocky tower formed by semi-molten rock. According to Maasai folklore, the tower is a Maasai girl who turned to stone after disobeying her family before her wedding. Another highlight of the park is the Obsidian Caves. Obsidian is formed when molten volcanic lava comes into contact with water and rapidly cools it. The result is a black, glassy-textured rock. Some parts of the caves contain small air bubbles that give the remarkable effect of a golden or rainbow sheen. By far the most popular attraction at the park is a 2 hour expedition of Lower Gorge through walls so narrow that they almost block out the sky and passes by several hot and cold waterfalls, hot springs, colorful strata and rock formations. This place is also popular for filming movies, including Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life and King Solomon’s Mines and Mountains of the Moon.
Lake Turkana National Parks: The most saline of Africa’s largest lakes, Lake Turkana is surrounded by a large expanse of desert. The area consists of 3 national parks that are an important breeding ground for Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes. In addition, it is an important stopover for migratory birds. The Koobi Fora deposits are rich in mammalian, molluscan, human, and pre-human remains and have contributed more to the understanding of human ancestry and the paleo-environment than any other archaeological site in the world.
Mount Kenya National Park/Natural Forest: At 5,199 m (17,057 ft), Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa. It is considered to be holy by the nearby Kikiuyu and Meru communities who perform traditional rituals on the mountain to their god Ngai and his wife Mumbi, whom they believe to live at the peak. Mount Kenya is an ancient, extinct volcano that contains 12 remnant glaciers (all of which are receding rapidly) and sits at the head of a U-shaped glacial valley. In the lower woodland forests and bamboo zones, the mammals that inhabit the area include the giant forest hog, the tree hyrax, white-tailed mongoose, black rhinoceros, and leopards. The area is also a part of the migrating African elephant route. Furthermore, there is an impressive amount of birdlife including the green ibis, the Abyssinian long-eared owl, the Ayres hawk eagle and the scarce swift.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve: This is Kenya’s most famous protected area, well-known for the extraordinary annual migration of 2 million Wildebeest and 200,000 Plains Zebra. There are also large numbers of lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and black rhinoceros. In addition, you might see antelope, hippos, warthogs, bush pigs and giant forest hogs. Furthermore there are more than 500 species of birds that inhabit this area.
Watamu: This is a small town along a beautiful sandy, white beach. Nearby is the Malindi Marine Reserve Park, which is perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. Be sure to visit the Gede Ruins, a heavily overgrown 12th century Swahili village, and the Kipepeo Butterfly project.
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