Mountain Elgon lies on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya, 10 norths of the equator and 235km east of the Ugandan capital city, Kampala. A massive, extinct volcano, at 321m in height it is East Africa’s 6th highest mountain. Covering an area of 4000km2 and measuring 50 x 80km, Mount Elgon is one of the world’s largest examples of a ‘shield’ volcano; created by fluid lava these take the form of flattened, shield – like domes rather than steep cones. A delightful landscape results in which numerous rivers radiating outwards from the central peaks drop over these distinctive, yellow – ochre rock faces to create Mount Elgon’s emblematic waterfalls.

Natural habitat on the higher slopes is protected by a 2,223km2 trans-boundary system of conservation areas. The forests and moorland on the Ugandan side was first gazette as a forest reserve in 1938 before being upgraded to create the 1,145km2 Mount Elgon national park in 1993. Conservation significance derives largely from a series of distinctive altitudinal vegetation zones. The lowest of these is Montane forest (2000-3000m) which covers almost half of the Ugandan MENP. The extent of forest ‘proper’ is reduced by a peripheral zone of ‘regenerating forest’; a 250km2 strip along the  park boundary that was  invaded and cleared by encroachers during the  troubled 70-80s. Above 3000m, montane forest gives way to bamboo. This zone is most extensive on the western side of the mountain where dried and smoked bamboo shoots-malewa- are a delicacy in adjoining Bagishu communities. Next up is heath land where heathers reach unfamiliar heights of up to 6m. Above 3500m, beaten back by increasingly bleak conditions, these plants give way to open moorland. Above 3800m, the mountain top and caldera are dotted with examples of the fabulously rare afro alpine vegetation found only on Eastern Africa’s highest mountains. ‘genetic plasticity’ caused by daily extremes of temperature causes plants familiar to European gardeners  as small ornamentals – lobelias, groundsels and hypericum – to reach gigantic proportions.
Fauna on Mount Elgon has been greatly reduced by poaching. Though elephant, buffalo and leopard are present, hikers are more likely to see primates (primarily black and white Colobus and blue monkey), duikers and small cats. 296 recorded bird species include 40 ‘restricted range species’ such as Jackson’s francolin, black collared Apalis and Tacazze sunbird.

Mount Elgon
is home to three main ethnic groups. The western and southern slopes above present-day Mbale and Sironko are home to the Bagisu while the northern part of the mountain Kapchorwa is the homeland of the Sabiny. The Bagisu are famous for their Imbalu ritual, a colorful, bi annual circumcision ceremony through which boys are initiated into manhood though Sabiny boys undergo a similar transition, the people of Kapchorwa are best known for their traditional practice of female circumcision (Female Genital Mutilation), a practice supposedly outlawed in Kapchorwa district in2009. The least numerous group on the mountain is Benet or Ndorobo who traditionally grazed cattle in the montane forests and moorlands. In 1983, to end increasingly damaging farming activities in the (then) forest reserve, the Ndorobo were relocated to a 600km2 Benet resettlement area excised from the northern margin of the forest. Unfortunately, the land allocation committee shared out most of this area among influential Sabiny and the Ndorobo were given, at best; small live as squatters on land in the area originally intended for their use.
The mountain is of immense importance to its residents and also the plains dwellers below, most notably as a water catchment which sustains over a million Ugandans. However the rural population on the SW slopes is the densest in Uganda (350 people/km2) with many families subsisting on tiny plots. A critical shortage of land derives farmers to cultivate increasingly steep and dangerous slopes and attempt to encroach into the forests of the national park. The consequences can be dire as evidenced by devastating landslides at Bududa in recent years.


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