General

Where Mount Kenya is a geological infant, the nearby Aberdare National Park protects one of the most ancient mountain ranges in East Africa, comprising bedrock thought to be at least 100 million years old. Known as Nyandarua (Drying Hide) to the Kikuyu, due to its faint resemblance to a pegged-out cattle skin, the range’s existence was first documented in 1885 by the explorer Joseph Thomson, who named it after Lord Aberdare of the Royal Geographic Society. The national park, which extends across the upper slopes for 767 sq km (296 sq miles), was gazetted in 1950, and is soon to be enclosed entirely by a 400km (249 miles) long electric fence to protect its rhinos – a process started in 2009 with the financial backing of the charity Rhino Ark .

The mountains rise in the north to the highest moorland peak of Ol Doinyo Lesatima at 3,999 metres (13,120ft), and some 40km (25 miles) to the south stands the well-known summit of Kinangop at 3,906 metres (12,816ft). Between these two peaks is a plateau of moorland – gently undulating country covered in tussock grass and large areas of mixed giant heath. Ice-cold streams, well stocked with trout, thread their way across the moorlands and cascade as a series of waterfalls to form the headwaters of several of the major rivers. The Park is criss-crossed with tracks, many made by British troops during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. The most important of these is the road that climbs the eastern slopes from Nyeri, running across the moorlands, to a height of 3,170 metres (10,400ft), then descending the western slopes to cross the Kinangop farmlands to terminate at Naivasha.

The Aberdares are well endowed with a great variety and quantity of wild animals despite the occurrence of periodic cold and mist. The western slopes of the range are principally part of the Rift wall, and are therefore relatively steep and generally not as attractive to game as are the more gentle slopes of the eastern side. Elephant, buffalo, eland, waterbuck, bushbuck, reedbuck, several species of duikers, suni, bushpig, warthog, serval, lion, Sykes’ monkey and hyena occur in varying numbers and most of them are easily seen. Rhino are sparse here, as everywhere else in the country, but they can be seen on the moors and particularly on the Treetops Salient. Herds of elephant and buffalo migrate with the rain, occupying the bamboo and rainforest zones during the dry seasons. When the rain begins, the game migrates to the plateau moorlands and the lower areas of the Treetops Salient, where the forest is not so dense and the ridges are less steep.

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Laikipia, Kenya

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