1 Introduction

The history of Kenya is characterised by a shift from one of the world's richest examples of biogeography, in which a handful of tribal peoples lived in harmony with local ecosystem services connected to this font of biodiversity, to a burgeoning vibrant population striving for betterment but which is associated with environmental degradation on a grand scale.

The key text to explore the origins of Kenya as a nation is the account of the history of the British colony written by William McGregor Ross in the 1920s. His book is being digitised as an e-book. This is a work in progress that can be accessed at:


Compared with Ross's time, there are still Kenyan biodiversity hotspots in the central Rift Valley and the Mara and Mara Triangle, protected with a range of conservation organisations, involving national parks., state-protected reserves, private nature estates, county heritage areas, internationally designated sites and watershed-based community lands.

The overarching purpose of the Kenyan case histstories is to encourage teachers to boost their students' understanding of how the fragile ecosystem services upon which the Kenyan tourist industry depends have to be carefully managed and at the same time integrate conservation with food security as local family/community horticultural adaptations to climate change. This is taking place alongside mass-produced fruit, coffee, vegetables and flowers for an international export market.

2 Green Map System: Kenya

3 Overview of managed Rift Valley sites


Central Rift Valley sites


Mara and Mt Suswa


4 Hotspots of environmental degradation

Links from these maps to the local land degradation issues are being made.

Tana River
Samburusmburu_district.pngRift Valleyreftvalleyprovince.pngNorth East Provincene_province.pngMurangamuranga.pngElowakelwaik.pngAmboseliamboseli_reserve.png

5 Land degradation

Demands on the land for economic development and pressures from a burgeoning population are leading to unprecedented land use change. In turn, unsustainable land use is driving land degradation. The result is a loss of land productivity with impacts on livelihoods and the economy. This section describes land degradation trends in Kenya as an introduction to the following pairs of satellite images that show this degradation on the ground.

Symptoms of land degradation and desertification

Land degradation is defined as the long-term loss of ecosystem function and productivity caused by disturbances from which the land cannot recover unaided. Land degradation occurs slowly and cumulatively and has long lasting impacts on rural people who become increasing vulnerable. The UN Convention to Combat Desertifi cation (CCD), of which Kenya is a signatory,
recognizes land degradation as a global development and environment issue. Desertifi cation is the most severe form of land degradation. The CCD defi nes desertifi cation as land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas (also referred to as drylands) resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities Pressures that lead to land degradation.

Unsustainable human activities that take place in already fragile areas and that are aggravated by natural disturbance such as drought or flooding lead to land degradation and desertifi cation. Kenya's 2002 National Action Programme on desertifi cation reported the following:

"The existing ecological conditions in drylands are harsh and fragile. These conditions are exacerbated by frequent drought and the influx of people from the high potential areas into the drylands".

Overgrazing and subdivision of land into uneconomic land parcel sizes have further worsened them. Under these circumstances, drylands are getting more and more vulnerable to desertification in Kenya". Population growth is contributing to the influx of more people into arid and semi-arid land, land is being fragmented into uneconomical parcels, marginal lands are increasingly being cultivated, pastures are being overgrazed, and forests encroached upon.

All these conspire to degrade the land.

Land degradation is increasing

Studies in 1997 showed that 64 per cent of Kenya's land area was potentially subject to moderate desertifi cation and about 23 per cent were vulnerable to severe to very severe desertification (Table 1). In the northern rangelands, 12.3 per cent suffered from severe land degradation, 52 per cent to moderate land degradation, and 33 per cent faced slight vulnerability to degradation. The latter study identified degradation in ASALs as a potential precursor to widespread desertification. In the early 2000s, approximately 30 per cent of Kenya was affected by very severe to severe land degradation and an estimated 12 million people, or a third of the Kenya's population, depended directly on land that is being degraded. The droughts of 1970-2000 accelerated soil degradation and reduced per-capita food production.
More recent studies extrapolating on local findings of spatial and temporal patterns of land degradation estimate it is increasing in severity and extent in many areas and that over 20 per cent of all cultivated areas, 30 per cent of forests, and 10 per cent of grasslands are subject to degradation. A 2006 pilot study found that potential areas of land degradation, defi ned as places where both net primary productivity and rain-use efficiency (the ratio of net primary productivity to precipitation) were declining, occupied 17 per cent of the country and 30 per cent of its cropland. The expansion of cropping into marginal lands accounts for much of this degradation. It identified the drylands around Lake Turkana and marginal cropland in Eastern Province as the areas of sharpest decline. One measure of land degradation.

is the loss of net primary productivity, although such losses do not always indicate land degradation. A 2008 study that used remote sensing to identify degrading areas based on loss of NPP between 1981 and 2003 found that 18 per cent of Kenya's total land area was degraded (Table 2).
The consequences

The impacts of land degradation and desertifi cation include a reduction in crop and pasture productivity and fuelwood and non-timber forest products, which are closely linked to poverty and food insecurity. The damage to soil, loss of habitat, water shortages, and siltation reduce biodiversity and ecosystem services and have economic consequences.

Land degradation manifests itself in many forms; among them are soil erosion, increased sediment loading of water bodies (such as Lake Olbollosat, the Winam Gulf, and Lake Baringo, all of which feature in
satellite images in this Atlas), loss of soil fertility, salinity, reduced ground cover, and the reduced carrying capacity of pastures (as in Amboseli National Park, for example).

Lake Elmentaita lies at the bottom of the Central Kenyan Rift Valley, at 1 786 m above sea level. Zebra, gazelle, eland, and families of warthog graze its salty shores. Approximately 10 000 years ago, Elmentaita was part of a much larger lake that included modern-day Lake Nakuru. Changes in climate conditions since then have reduced the lake's size to its present extent.

Ornithologists have recorded as many as 40 000 flamingoes at Lake Elmentaita. The vast fl ocks of fl amingoes feed on the algae that thrive in its shallow alkaline waters. One of the great spectacles of Africa, these vast flocks of fl amingoes are threatened by silt from farms surrounding the lake that inhibits the growth of the blue-green spirulina algae on which the
flamingoes feed.

Lake Elmentaita Flamingoes Leave Habitat

In addition, a record of the lake's water levels since 1958 shows a steady decline. Lake Elmentaita's level has fl uctuated dramatically in the past, and changes to the ecosystem caused by rising or falling water levels have dispersed many of the flamingoes and pelicans to other lakes in the Rift Valley. Since the 1970s, the shallow alkaline lake has gradually shrunk from 18.5 km2 to less than 14.3 km2 and it could vanish entirely in the future. Changes in the watershed, especially the dramatic increase in farmland, are thought to be the cause of the recent rapid changes in water levels. Much of the watershed's forests have also been removed or degraded.

El Wak is located in the Mandera District of Kenya's North Eastern Province. It is in arid lands with very low potential for rangelands, given its average annual rainfall of about 250 mm and temperatures as high as 35o C to 40oC. In addition to these harsh conditions, North Eastern Province is rated the poorest province in Kenya with 74 per cent of the population living below the poverty line and 50 per cent of the population under the age of 15, giving it among the highest dependency ratios in Kenya.

Nomadic pastoralism has traditionally been the backbone of the economy in North Eastern Province, with herds moving across large expanses of rangeland to access adequate food and water. The area sees frequent droughts usually accompanied by livestock diseases. Recent droughts and the resulting reduction in herd size have reduced the viability of a purely pastoral livelihood.

El Wak Boreholes and Overgrazing

The government, non-governmental organizations, and multi-lateral donor organizations have created boreholes, wells, and earthen dams to provide water in the most arid districts. Boreholes surrounding El Wak have attracted permanent settlements and increased livestock populations causing serious land degradation. The satellite images from 1973 and 2001 show this increase in the intervening 33 years. This degradation poses a new threat to local people's livelihoods as the land's capacity to support rangeland surrounding the borehole decreases.

Rainfall across the Laikipia Plateau ranges from around 900 mm near the Mt. Kenya and Aberdares Massifs in the south to less than 500 mm in the more arid areas to the north. This savanna landscape is traversed by the Ewaso Nyiro River, a vital water source particularly to the drier north. The Plateau supports among the highest wildlife populations in Kenya including all of the native large carnivore species and an impressive diversity of large mammals in spite of the fact that only a small fraction of the district is formally protected.

In the early 20th century, the plateau was home to the pastoral Maasai communities. By following the rains and utilizing the vast expanse of grazing land to support their cattle, the Maasai were able to support themselves sustainably.

Laikipia District Land Division and Population Growth

During the colonial era, most of the plateau was converted to large commercial ranches pressing the Maasai into the northeast corner of the plateau. The population of Laikipia District has grown rapidly since the 1960s with an annual growth reaching over seven per cent between 1967 and 1979. Much of this growth was in the arable southwestern corner.

In the central plateau, the large, sparsely populated ranches enjoy the luxury of balancing their use of the land to match the land's regenerative capacity. In the District's southwest and northeast corners, however, pressures from growing populations are forcing the land's viability. The impact of increasing numbers of people and small farms between 1986 and 2003 can be seen the satellite images of the southwest corner of Laikipia Plateau

Samburu District, in the Rift Valley Province, stretches north from the Ewaso Nyiro River to the south of Lake Turkana. It is an expansive, predominantly pastoral area. Among the major physical and ecological features in Samburu District are Mount Kulal, the Samburu National Reserve, the Buff alo Springs National Reserve, and the Loriki Forest.

The semi-nomadic pastoralist Samburu people, the main ethnic group in the district, keep cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. Traditionally, the Samburu have been able to co-exist in relative balance with the area's wildlife, which includes elephants, lions, giraff es, ostriches, cheetahs, and leopards. As the population in Samburu has grown, some of these pastoralists have adopted increasingly settled, western lifestyles, including some farming. Nevertheless, a predominantly pastoral approach to cattle-raising has been maintained.

The cattle population has grown along with the human population. This puts increasing pressure on this fragile arid environment. In particular, the increasing livestock population has led to localized areas of land degradation where cattle are concentrated during the dry season. Loss of forest and vegetation cover is evident in the changes between these two images from
1973 and 2000.

Scores of lives have been lost to landslides in Kenya in recent decades. In addition, productive farmland, personal property, roads, railways and bridges have been destroyed. It is estimated that millions of Kenyan shillings of property damage have been caused by landslides in the past decade alone. Most of these landslides occur in the southwestern quarter of the country where steep slopes and heavy rainfall create dangerous conditions during the rainy season.

Unfortunately, these areas also have dense populations which settle in these areas because of their high agricultural potential. While these disasters are prompted by periods of heavy rainfall their likelihood is often increased by human activities such as removal of vegetation, altered drainage, overgrazing and cultivation on steep slopes. Removal of trees and other
natural vegetation changes drainage and infi ltration patterns and destabilizes soils on slopes.

The Murang'a District on the eastern footslopes of the Aberdare Range has high rainfall, intense population and intense farming. The area's soils are prone to landslides, exacerbated by the removal of forests and shrubs for farming (Feb 2003 image).

Between 1960 and 1980 the district experienced 40 landslides. In Kakamega North District, following a night of very heavy rain in August 2007 two landslides occurred at Khuvasale village. The disaster killed seven people and left at least 39 injured. The village is located along the Nandi Escarpment (Feb. 2005 image) in an area of intense small scale agriculture and heavy rains.

As it is everywhere on the planet, biodiversity, or the diversity of species, genes, and ecosystems, is declining in Kenya. Of all African countries, Kenya ranks second highest in bird and mammal species richness. It also has high levels of species endemism, or species that live nowhere else on earth. The loss of Kenya's rich variety of wildlife species diminishes the planet's store of living things; it is also an enormous threat to the nation's tourism industry, a mainstay of its economy, and it undermines the livelihoods of those reliant on local resources for their livelihoods. This section, which complements a brief discussion of biodiversity in Chapter 1, introduces the following satellite images that vividly illustrate how human activities are threatening the ecosystems that provide habitat for the country's rich biodiversity.

Kenya's landscapes are immensely diverse, so the life forms they harbour are also rich in variability.

Kenya is home to some 35 000 known species of fl ora and fauna. Kenya's grasslands contain a unique assembly of megafauna, and as shown in Chapter 1, the nation's closed canopy forests, which hold about half of Kenya's tree species, provide habitat for about 40 per cent of its larger mammals, 30 per cent of birds, and 35 per cent of its butterflies. The coastal forests, western plateau forests, and the northern end of the Eastern Arc Mountains (Taita Hills) are the most diverse forest regions. Kenya's marine and coastal areas also contain a large diversity of species, with about 456 species of fi n fish, 169 coral species, 9 species of mangroves, 11 species of seagrasses, 344 mammal species, 5 species of reptiles, as well as uncounted numbers of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and other species

Habitat loss and fragmentation

Globally, habitat loss is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Kenya's increasing population, poverty, and the drive for economic growth are the underlying pressures that contribute to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Land degradation, described earlier in this chapter, also threatens biodiversity. To some degree, all forest areas in Kenya are fragmented, while parts of grass- and shrub-lands are highly degraded. Gaps in vegetation cover caused by fragmentation can isolate populations of certain species and lead to their demise, while land and water degradation render habitats unhealthy thus threatening species survival.

Invasive alien species

Invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity. Kenya has been subject to the invasion of at least 34 alien species, with negative impacts on biodiversity, agriculture, and human development as such species compete with native ones or invade new areas. They include eleven arthropods, ten microorganisms, nine plant species, and four vertebrates. Notable examples include the larger grain borer (Prostephanus truncatus), the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), and Prosopis spp. Few of these species are under control, although Kenya has initiated measures to mitigate their impacts.

Threatened species

Kenya's threatened species include 33 species of mammals, 28 breeding bird species, 5 species of reptiles, 4 of amphibians, 29 of fi sh, 16 molluscs species, 11 species of other invertebrates, and 103 plant species.

Biodiversity hotspots

Biodiversity hotspots (as opposed to Kenya's generic "environmental hotspots" highlighted in this chapter), are internationally recognized as the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth.
Each of the world's 34 places identifi ed as biodiversity hotspots contain at least 1 500 species of vascular plants (>0.5 percent of the world's total) as endemics and has lost at least 70 per cent of its original habitat.

There are eight such spots in Africa, two of which partially occur in Kenya: the mountains of the Eastern Afromontane hotspot; and the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa.

The former consists of mountainous areas scattered along Africa's eastern edge. The main part of this hotspot is the Eastern Arc Mountains and Southern Rift, which stretches from southeastern Kenya to southern Tanzania and Malawi. In the Eastern Arc Mountains, represented in Kenya by Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon, vegetation types include upper montane, montane, submontane, and lowland forests.

Afroalpine vegetation, which grows above 3 400 m, is characterized by giant senecios (Dendrosenecio spp.), giant lobelias (Lobelia spp.), and Helichrysum scrub.

The Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa hotspot is made up of tiny and fragmented forest remnants, but they contain extraordinary biodiversity, with more than 1 750 endemic plant species and 28 endemic plant genera. Kenya's portion is a relatively narrow (up to 40 km) coastal strip and a 120 km extension along the Tana River. The Tana River is home to the Tana River red colobus and the Tana River mangabey, two critically threatened and endemic primates.

Kenya's Kiunga Marine National Reserve in this hotspot supports the world's largest breeding colony of roseate terns. The Kwale-Usambara subcentre of endemism, on the Kenya-Tanzania border, is an exceptionally important part of the hotspot. The Kenyan and Tanzanian coastal forests are the origin of the 40 000 cultivated varieties of African violet, which form the basis of a US$100 million global trade in house plants. Subsistence and commercial agricultural expansion is the biggest threat to these already fragile ecosystems.

Important Bird Areas

Internationally Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have also been identifi ed as places where biodiversity needs urgent protection. IBAs do one (or more) of three things: hold signifi cant numbers of one or more globally threatened species; are one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted-range species or biomerestricted species; and have exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory species.

In 2004, there were 60 IBAs in Kenya, many of which are already protected areas, including Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, a refuge for six globally threatened bird species, and Lake Nakuru National Park, with its immense numbers of fl amingoes and other waterbirds. Other IBAs are not yet protected, including densely populated valleys where Kenya's endemic Hinde's Babbler survives. The most significant threats to IBAs are overgrazing and illegal grazing, which seriously threaten the conservation status of 57 per cent of them, while more than half are under serious threat from illegal selective logging and vegetation destruction.

The most severely threatened sites include Yala Swamp, Busia Grasslands, Mukurwe-ini Valleys and Mau- Narok/Molo Grasslands.

Protected areas

One of the key methods governments take to protect biodiversity is the setting aside of national parks, wildlife refuges, and other types of legally protected areas. In 2007, Kenya had 348 designated protected areas, representing 75 238 km2 or 12.7 per cent of Kenya's territory. Of these protected areas, 14 are internationally recognized.

Amboseli National Park and Biosphere Reserve on Kenya's Tanzania border lies at the foot of majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro. Its unique arid environment, with a system of swamps fed by water from the forests of Kilimanjaro, supports a remarkable variety of wildlife. Amboseli's population of elephants has grown to 1 400 since the 1980s. While the last of the park's rhinos were killed in the early 1990s, they are survived by stable populations of hippos, buff aloes, and giraff e. The large array of other wildlife includes characteristic savanna species such as zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, oryx, impala, dik-dik, lions, and hyenas and roughly 400 bird species. The park is small and relies on 4 000 km2 of surrounding "dispersal areas" to provide migration corridors and increase the feeding and breeding grounds for Amboseli's wildlife. These vital areas are declining as population, farming, cattle, and other human activities increase in areas surrounding the park. Fencing of some swamp areas to prevent elephants from destroying crops displaces the elephants and other wildlife species from their traditional grazing areas, blocks their dispersion, and denies them access to water.

Amboseli Reserve Fragmented Forests

Fragmentation of the environment is also a concern for traditional livelihoods in the area. The area's Maasai population traditionally used mobility and the ecological variety of the area to cope with rainfall variability, moving to alternative pasture when necessary. Fragmentation and private land ownership are changing these patterns toward intensive grazing and in many
cases, overgrazing and land degradation.

Tana River Primate Reserve Forest Loss

The Tana River Primate Reserve, located on the river's lower reaches in the Tana River District, Coast Province, was established in 1976 to protect two endangered primate species endemic to the area-the Tana River red colobus and the crested mangabey. The riverine forests that line the lower Tana River is the sole habitat of both species and they are in decline. These forests are remnants of rainforests that covered Eastern Africa during periods of moister climate roughly 8 000 and 28 500 years ago.

Under the current drier climate, the extent of the forests is limited by the depth of the water table, which declines rapidly with distance from the river. What remains of the forests is being lost to shifting cultivation, irrigation dykes, flooding, and other human activities, as well as natural changes in the river course. Since the 1980s, a further one-third of the forests in the area surrounding the Tana River Primate Reserve were lost. The loss has been than outside.

The 2000 era image of the area of the Lower Tana River shows the limited extent and isolated nature of these forests. The loss of forest area and the fragmentation of the remaining forest put the endangered red colobus and crested manabey at greater risk of extinction. The total population of the Tana River red colobus is estimated to be at 1 300 individuals and their average group size is declining.