Kilimanjaro (flora) - Plant Life Ecosystems:It is said that to climb up Kilimanjaro is to walk through four seasons in four days. It is true, of course, and nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in its flora. The variety of flora found on Kilimanjaro can be ascribed in part to the mountain’s tremendous height and in part to its proximity to both the equator and the Indian Ocean. Add to this the variations in climate, solar radiation and temperature from the top of the mountain to the bottom and you end up with the ideal conditions for highly differentiated and distinctive vegetation zones.
Cultivated zone and forest (800m-2800m):
The forest zone, along with the cultivated zone that lies below it, together receive the most rainfall – about 2300mm per year – of any part of the mountain. The forest zone also houses the greatest variety of both fauna and flora.
Eminii and Impatiens Pseudoviola. Impatiens kilimanjari The semi-official ’emblem’ of Kilimanjaro; also known as the ‘elephant’s trunk flower’ for obvious reasons (picture above). The star of the montane forest zone is the beautiful flower Impatiens kilimanjari, an endemic fleck of dazzling red and yellow in the shape of an inch-long tuba. You’ll see them by the side of the path on the southern side of the mountain. Vying for the prime piece of real estate that exists between the roots of the trees are other, equally elegant flowers including the beautiful violet Viola eminii and Impatiens pseudoviola.
Heath and moorland (2800m-4000m) These two zones overlap, and together occupy the area immediately above the forest from around 2800m to 4000m – known as the low alpine zone. Temperatures can drop below 0°C up here and most of the precipitation that does fall here comes from the mist that is an almost permanent fixture at this height.
Kniphofia thomsoni or red-hot poker Immediately above the forest zone is the alpine heath. Rainfall here is around 1300mm per year. Grasses now dominate the mountain slopes, too, picked out here and there with some splendid wild flowers including the yellow-flowered Protea kilimandscharica. Another favourite, and one most readers will recognise instantly, is the back-garden favourite Kniphofia thomsoni, better known to most as the red-hot poker (picture above).
Lobelia deckeni Lobelia Deckeni Climbing ever further, you’ll soon reach the imperceptible boundary of the moorland zone, which tends to have clearer skies but an even cooler climate. Average per annum precipitation is now down to 525mm. The most distinctive plant in this area – indeed, on the entire mountain – is the senecio, or giant or tree groundsel (below). Groundsels tend to favour the damper, more sheltered parts of the mountain, which is why you’ll see them in abundance near the Barranco Campsite as well as other, smaller valleys and ravines.
Sharing roughly the same kind of environment is the strange lobelia deckeni, another endemic species and one that bears no resemblance to the lobelias that you’ll find in your back garden.
Alpine desert (4000m-5000m)
Giant Groundsels Giant Groundsels By the time you reach the Saddle, only three species of tussock grass and a few everlastings can withstand the extreme conditions. This is the alpine desert, where plants have to survive in drought conditions (precipitation here is less than 200mm per year), and put up with both inordinate cold and intense sun, usually in the same day. Up to about 4700m you’ll also find the Asteraceae, a bright yellow daisy-like flower and the most cheerful-looking organism at this height.
Ice cap (5000m-5895m) On Kibo, almost nothing lives. There is virtually no water. On the rare occasions that precipitation occurs, most of the moisture instantly disappears into the porous rock or is locked away in the glaciers.
Helichrysum Newi Helichrysum Newi That said, specimens of Helichrysum newi – an everlasting that truly deserves that name – have been found near a fumarole in the Reusch Crater, a good 5760m above sea level, and lichen is said to exist right up to the summit. While these lichens may not be the most spectacular of plants, it may interest you to know that their growth rate on the upper reaches of Kilimanjaro is estimated to be just 0.5mm in diameter per year; for this reason, scientists have concluded that the larger lichens on Kilimanjaro could be amongst the oldest living things on earth, being hundreds and possibly thousands of years old!
Kilimanjaro Fauna - Flightless Animal Life Ecosystems:In regards to fauna on Kilimanjaro, you have to be very lucky to see much flightless fauna on Kilimanjaro. The more exotic fauna of East Africa does occasionally venture onto the mountain. Most animals prefer to be somewhere where there aren’t 35,000 people marching around every year. So in all probability you will see virtually nothing during your time on the mountain beyond the occasional monkey or mouse. Nevertheless, keep your eyes open and you never know…
Cultivated zone and forest (800m-2800m): Animals are more numerous down in the forest zone than anywhere else on the mountain; unfortunately, so is the cover provided by trees and bushes, so sightings remain rare.
As with the four-striped grass mice of Horombo (see below), it tends to be those few species for whom the arrival of man has been a boon rather than a curse that are the easiest to spot, including the blue monkeys, which appear daily near the Mandara Huts and which are not actually blue but grey or black with a white throat. These, however, are merely the plainer relatives of the beautiful colobus monkey, which has the most enviable tail in the animal kingdom; you can see a troop of these at the start of the forest zone on the Rongai Route, by Londorossi Gate and a few near the Mandara Huts too. Olive baboons, civets, leopards, mongooses and servals are said to live in the mountain’s forest as well, though sightings are extremely rare; here, too, lives the bush pig with its distinctive white stripe running along its back from head to tail. Then there’s the honey badger. Don’t be fooled by the rather cute name. As well as being blessed with a face only its mother could love, these are the most powerful and fearless carnivores for their size in Africa. Even lions give them a wide berth. You should too: not only can they cause a lot of damage to your person, but the thought of having to tell your friends that, of all the bloodthirsty creatures that roam the African plains, you got savaged by a badger, is too shaming to contemplate.
Further down, near or just above the cultivated zone, bushbabies are more easily heard than seen as they come out at night and jump on the roofs of the huts. Here, too, is the small-spotted genet with its distinctive black-and-white tail, and the noisy, chipmunk-like tree hyrax.
One creature you definitely won’t see at any altitude is the rhinoceros. Although a black rhinoceros was seen a few years ago on the north side of the mountain, it is now believed that over-hunting has finally taken its toll of this most majestic of creatures; Count Teleki is said to have shot 89 of them during his time in East Africa, including four in one day, and there are none on – or anywhere – near Kilimanjaro today.
Heath, moorland and above (2800m and above) Just as plant-life struggles to survive much above 2800m, so animals too find it difficult to live on the barren upper slopes. Yet though we may see little, there are a few creatures living on Kilimanjaro’s higher reaches.
Above the treeline you’ll be lucky to see much. The one obvious exception to this rule is the four-striped grass mouse (left), which clearly doesn’t find it a problem eking (or should that be eeking?) out an existence at high altitude. Indeed, if you’re staying in the Horombo Huts on the Marangu Route, one is probably running under your table while you read this, and if you stand outside for more than a few seconds at any campsite you should see them scurrying from rock to rock. Other rodents present at this level include the harsh-furred and climbing mouse and the mole rat, though all are far more difficult to spot. For anything bigger than a mouse, your best chance above 2800m is either on the Shira Plateau, where lions are said to roam occasionally, or on the northern side of the mountain on the Rongai Route. Kenya’s Amboseli National Park lies at the foot of the mountain on this side and many animals, particularly elephants, amble up the slopes from time to time.
Buffalo are occasionally seen, particularly on the Shira Plateau and the Saddle and near Kikelelwa Camp on the Rongai Route Grey and red duikers, elands and bushbucks are perhaps the most commonly seen animals at this altitude, though sightings are still extremely rare. None of these larger creatures live above the tree-line of Kilimanjaro permanently, however, and as with the leopards, giraffes and buffaloes that occasionally make their way up the slopes, they are, like us, no more than day-trippers. On Kibo itself the entymologist George Salt found a species of spider that was living in the alpine zone at altitudes of up to 5500m. What exactly these high-altitude arachnids live on up there is unknown – though Salt himself reckoned it was probably the flies that blew in on the wind, of which he found a few, and which appeared to be unwilling or unable to fly. What is known is that the spiders live underground, better to escape the rigours of the weather.