Geographic map of Kenya
Kenya is an East African state that borders Ethiopia and South Sudan to the north, Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the west, Somalia to the north-east and the Indian Ocean to the east.
Kenya has an area of 582,650 km² and a population of 54,727,751 inhabitants.
Nairobi is its capital and largest city with 4,500,000 inhabitants (2007).
The geography of Kenya is quite complex. Kenya is a country in East Africa, and is crossed by the equator. Despite being an equatorial and tropical country, it has very varied climates. In the north there are desert areas, and in the south central plateaus, with forests and savannas. The country is crossed by long mountain ranges. Overall, the morphological element that most characterizes Kenya is the Rift Valley, which crosses it from north to south. The inland waters have fresh and salt water lakes; there are also numerous boraciferous dandelions and geysers. On the other hand, there are few rivers, of which only two have a noteworthy flow and length (the Tana and the Galana).
The coastal strip, over 400 km long, is followed by a region of arid and steppe plateaus; the central one, which rises to altitudes between 1 500 and 3 000 meters, is divided by the fracture of the Rift Valley which develops from north to south and which forms the basin of Lake Turkana (or Rodolfo). On the sides of the Rift Valley rise imposing volcanic massifs, the largest of which is Mount Kenya (5199 m), one of the highest mountains in Africa and Kilimanjaro (5358 m) on the border with Tanzania. The plateau slopes down to the west, near Lake Victoria, and to the north where the territory of Kenya is occupied by a large desert plateau.
As far as the hydrographic network is concerned, there are two main rivers: the Tana and the Galana, which pour their waters into the Indian Ocean and have a very variable regime throughout the year, depending on the frequency of rainfall. The largest lake in the country is the Turkana, since only a small portion of Lake Victoria belongs to the territory of Kenya; Lake Turkana has brackish waters and numerous islands emerge.
The climate of Kenya is very hot and humid, especially in the coastal regions, and becomes milder and drier in the heart of the country, in relation to the altitude.
The rains are concentrated in two periods of the year: from March to May the heavy rains, while from October to December the rains are intense but short. The dominant environment is that of the savannah, protected by numerous natural parks that cover about 10% of the national territory. On the slopes of the mountains and along the rivers there are traces of the original rainforest; while in the north, in the less rainy areas, the savannah fades into the desert. The savannah is the habitat of large herds of herbivores (antelopes, gazelles, giraffes, buffaloes, zebras, elephants) and their predators (lions, leopards and cheetahs). Hippos and crocodiles live in the waters of lakes and rivers.
Kenya has an extraordinary biodiversity, which reflects the variety of the different climatic and morphological conditions of its territory.
The ancient equatorial forest survives in some strips of the coastal strip and along the rivers, where it takes on the appearance of a gallery forest; in many places it has given way to a secondary forest made up of bushes, heather, tree ferns, ficus, bamboos, lianas and epiphytes.
Along the coast there are forests of palm trees, mangroves, teak and sandalwood, while the marshy areas of Lake Victoria are the kingdom of reeds, papyrus and large acacias.
The mountains show upwards a spectacular succession of vegetal bands: at an altitude of 2500 m the humid and extremely vigorous forest gradually thins out, passing through the savannah and then into fat grasslands where seneci, giant lobelias etc are imposed; higher up you reach the alpine type prairie and finally you have the passage towards the snowy environment.
Along the coasts grow forests of palms, mangroves, teak and sandalwood, while the flat areas are characterized by extensive tracts of alborated savannah with baobabs, euphorbias and acacias.
Where the rains are more abundant, the savannah-park grows, while in the less rainy areas there is the grassy steppe.
Finally, the NE part is semi-desert: here only acacias, thorny bushes and a few dum palm trees grow.
Soil erosion, desertification and deforestation are the main environmental problems that Kenya faces.
This country has a high rate of demographic growth, therefore it has a growing need for firewood and land to cultivate. Only 8.2% of the land is arable, although the agricultural systems of the Kenyan highlands are among the most productive in all of Africa.
The increase in the use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture has caused significant water pollution; only 46% of the rural population has access to safe drinking water. 6.1% of the territory is covered by woodland, but only 3% is occupied by natural humid forests.
Currently 12.7% of the country’s surface, so to speak, is protected. There are three marine reserves, four nature reserves, eleven national reserves and eighteen national parks, including Amboseli, Mount Kenya and Sibiloi. Initiatives are currently underway to repopulate the increasingly rare African elephants and black rhinos, and a stern campaign against poaching has been undertaken, ridiculous to say the least.
Proponents of commercial deforestation threaten to sue environmentalists for defamation, insisting that their logging actions are fully legal.
With 5.6 million trees cut down every day, Kenya is heading for desertification
Not only is the Amazon the place where forests are slaughtered, the same destruction occurs in Africa, albeit for quite different reasons. A recent report by the Africa Green Foundation revealed that 5.6 million trees are being felled every day in Kenya alone. An astonishing amount when compared to the effort of environmentalists who, while dedicating themselves to reforestation with enormous energy and determination, barely manage to replant a paltry 12 percent of the total number of trees felled. It is like continuing to pour water into a tub with holes where the inlet jet is much lower than the outlet jet.
Unlike the Amazon, in Kenya the causes of the felling of trees are mainly due to domestic needs and those of mini-entrepreneurship. In the areas of the plateau, where the night cold is always constant and pungent, the only way to warm up is to light fires, using wood as fuel. But wood is also used for cooking by 90 percent of the entire sub-Saharan population, while it represents as much as 52 percent of the fuels used for the production of electricity. According to the World Bank, the ongoing deforestation in Africa has reached levels of absolute drama and Kenya, in particular, risks being transformed in a few decades, into a barren and desolate land, as, in the last thirty years, has happened for the Samburu National Park, once green and luxuriant and today reduced to a vast expanse of gray, arid and dusty land.
The high rate of population growth in Africa has also increased the need for greater agricultural development that meets the food needs of the growing population, a development that has increasingly required the acquisition of fertile land, too often torn from forests. According to the FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization, it is precisely in agriculture that 60 per cent of the entire African deforestation resides, while 20 per cent is used by trade and industry and the remaining 20 per cent for home use. Commercial uses include the production of Charcoal, a wood charcoal that is obtained through a long fumigation of the tree logs then reduced to pieces, useful for cooking on the grill. The Swahili peoples call it chacol and for cooking it is preferred to wood because its combustion is very slow, making it last a long time.
Reasons, those listed, are completely understandable because they respond to the basic needs of peoples still too poor to be able to access more advanced systems. However, African forests are rapidly decreasing and are in serious danger of extinction. Suffice it to say that in the decade between 1980 and 1990, FAO estimated that Africa lost over 15 million hectares of forest every year to support the needs of human development. This situation has alarmed the foundation for the protection of forests whose president, Isac Kalua, said “My Kenyan compatriots must realize that the felling of trees creates serious damage to the ecosystem and continuing in this way they will put the future of their children at risk ”.
What is certain is that, in addition to these legitimate warnings, it should also be possible to propose valid alternatives which, at least until now, have been lacking. At the moment, the most realistic initiative is that undertaken by the UN body that deals with climate change on the planet which, in collaboration with the Green Foundation, has presented a massive reforestation plan that will initially affect nine pilot areas: Tharaka, Kituy, Machakos, Embu, Siaya, Homabay, Laikipia, Turkana and Marsabit. The project will then be gradually extended to all forests in the country. But this project, in order to be implemented, inevitably requires the participation of the Kenyan government which through the mouth of the Minister of the Environment, Judi Wakhungu, has announced the development of a plan that, in the current year, will allow his department to plant over 50 million new trees. Certainly a positive response, but which remains completely insufficient given that the current annual felling is already close to 20 billion trees.
Also, is this a promise that Kenya can count on? There is really hope for this because the country is in full emergency and the minimum time for a newly planted tree to make its contribution to climate balance requires at least seven years. If this government promise ends up like many others that have never been fulfilled, it will no longer be a question of confronting citizens who, even if grumbling, remain powerless. It will mean adopting an attitude of swagger against the forces of nature. Nature that man, albeit with its most sophisticated technology, has never managed and will never be able to defeat.
Kenya is still today a land where the greatest number and the greatest variety of animals are found.
The biggest are the Big Five: Elephant, Rhinoceros, Lion, Buffalo and Leopard.
Large mammals also include the Cheetah, the “cousin” of the Leopard.
Another large mammal is the Hippo. It is the second largest land animal in terms of size. It can reach the weight of 2 tons.
The animal that most and best excites the children’s imagination is the Giraffe. There are three main species: the Masai giraffe (lives in southern Kenya and Tanzania), the reticulated giraffe (lives in northern Kenya) and the Rothschild’s giraffe (lives in western Kenya and northern Uganda). The giraffe has the longest (black) tongue of all mammals, which can reach up to 45 centimeters.
The Zebra is seen throughout East Africa. She is always very active; during the day it moves, at night it rests. The zebra is able to digest even the heaviest foods. In fact, therefore, it also survives where other animals find nothing to eat.
The bush-filled savannah found in this part of Africa is home to the most extraordinary variety of Antelopes in the world. There are about 30 different species ranging from Eland (the largest) to Dik-dik.
The little cats are all more or less the evolution of the mythical tawny cat of Egypt and are the African Golden Cat, the Sand Cat, the Caracal, the Serval or African Leopard. They weigh 2 to 3 pounds, with a poor sense of smell, boast exceptional hearing and excellent eyesight. Carnivores, they feed on small prey.
The Canidae family includes small carnivores related to the dog.
They are essentially two species of Jackals: the Striped Jackal and the Black-backed Jackal.
Another very common canid is the Otocione.
Among what are called the gregarious hunters, the largest is the African wild dog. Hunting in packs preying on Antelopes, Zebras, Gazelles and Gnus.
The predator par excellence, however, is the Hyena, included in the Hyenidae family, which has one of the strongest jaws. It manages to devour the bones of its victims. It is divided into two groups: the spotted hyena and the striped one. They generally pounce on the remains of animals that are victims of other predators. The hyenas are content to finish the remains of the carcasses.
Among the small mammals can be classified carnivores, herbivores and a good number of omnivorous monkeys.
The Mustelidae family includes in particular the Weasels and the African Otters. They inhabit woods, bush and grassy areas. They boast a wide repertoire of vocal sounds and repel enemies thanks to a repellent odor that they can produce from the secretion of their anal glands.
Mongooses are mammals representing the Herpestidae family and belonging to the order of carnivores. They live in groups, they are quick and agile in their movements, they move in the bush showing off their vocal skills. Their best way of defense is to take cover in the nearest holes to avoid the aggression of the largest carnivores.
Hyraxes or Procavias are the closest relatives of elephants. Although they are tiny specimens, they share a series of similar characteristics with elephants: claw-forged nails that are actually hooves; two breasts located between the lower limbs; internal testicles; a gestation of seven months.
Baboons are the largest specimens in the Cercopithecidae family. They are robust monkeys, with a round head and protruding snout. They live in groups and, as with many other animals, females are the fundamental element. Only one male is the leader of the group. He is the one who has the task of mating. The most common species in this area of Africa is the gray-green Cercopithecus. Agile, slender with a long tail, lives in a group. Gifted with excellent eyesight, he also boasts exceptional hearing, while possessing a poor sense of smell. This type of vervet is omnivorous: it eats everything from flowers to herbs, but also insects, reptiles, birds and eggs.
In Kenya, as many as 1100 different species of birds have been identified to date (click on the link and see: “Kenya Birdwatching”, “Kenyan Birds” and “Kenya – Les oiseaux”), so you can understand entire region hires for ornithologists. The diverse habitat made up of many different elements allows this region to offer birds an excellent environment.
It is estimated that around 6,000 million birds migrate to Africa each year. There is no winter or summer in East Africa. The temperatures remain more or less the same. The only difference is in the humidity. And birds instinctively know when to stop or leave. Along the coast, the tropical climate allows birds to find food easily.
The three-toed sandpiper, the small curlew, the large Corriere, the Voltapietre, the Pantana, the African oystercatcher, are some of the migratory species that return to the north in spring to reproduce.
Among the sedentary breeds, the Gray Heron, the Mangrove Kingfisher, the Night Heron are the protagonists of a truly fascinating ornithological scene.
Eight species of storks live along the rivers which delight in the most diverse prey with their enormous beak.
The other great bird of sure charm is the Eagle. With its majestic flight, the wingspan alone is enough to instill in the observer a sense of respect that comes very close to fear. The rapacious eagle, the martial eagle, the Wahlberg eagle feed on small mammals, Pharaoh, Francolini, while they go to drink.
Among the lake birds, you can observe the whole series of Pelicans and Flamingos, especially the pink ones. In the category of lowland birds there are the Larks, the Dancers. Among others, the terrible African Marabou stands out, a scavenger that, like the Vultures, is attracted by the carcasses of dead animals and by landfills.