Kakamega Forest is a tropical rainforest tucked in the Kakamega and Kisumu Counties in the northwest of Nairobi (Kenya’s capital city) near the border with Uganda.
It is Kenya’s only tropical rainforest and is said to be Kenya’s last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent.
Geography of the forest
The forest including reserves comprise of approximately 238 square kilometers which is a little less than half of which currently remains as indigenous forest. The forest is elevated at predominantly between 1500 meters and 1600 meters above the sea level.
In the northern direction of the forest lies the Kakamega National Reserve which covers an area of 45 square kilometers (17 square miles/4,468 hectares) and was established as a forest reserve in 1985.
Just to the north there is also the Kisere Forest Reserve. Throughout the forest are a series of grassy glades ranging in size from about 1 to 50 with a few larger clearings. The origins of the glades are uncertain of which some are certainly recent clearings but others predate recent records.
These may have been uprooted from past human activity such as cattle grazing or may be the result of herb-ivory and movements by large mammals such as buffaloes and elephants which are both currently extinct from the region.
The glades vary a great deal in structure, some being open grass and others having a considerable number of trees or shrubs.
A number of streams and small creeks run through the reserve of which the larger creeks are usually bordered by a few to tens of meters of the forest on either side which divide the glades well as the smallest creeks flow through open grasslands often forming small marshy patches.
The climate of the forest
The Kakamega Forest is wet throughout the year with an average of 1200 mm – 1700 mm of rain per year. In April and May, the forest receives long rains (heavy rainfall) however in June the forest is somehow dry and a second peak roughly in August to September (“short rains”).
January and February are the driest months thus temperature is fairly constant throughout the year ranging between 20 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Celsius.
Biodiversity of the forest
The forest comprises of a rich biodiversity including some of Africa’s greatest hard and soft woods like; Elgon teak, red and white stinkwood and several varieties of croton and aniageria altisima.
There are 380 recorded species of plants including; the 60 species of ferns, 150 species of trees and shrubs, and 170 species of flowering plants including 60 species of orchids with 9 species found only in this forest.
The forest is also popular for its birdlife boosting almost 367 bird species such as; West African Great blue turacos and black-and-white-casqued hornbill.
At least 9 bird species are not found anywhere else except in this forest. Mammals that occur in the park include bush pigs, mongooses, duikers, squirrels, bushbucks, African clawless otters, giant African water shrews, tree pangolins, porcupines, bats and numerous primates including baboons, blue monkeys, Pottos, red-tailed monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys and the occasional vervet monkeys.
Leopards have been occasionally reported in the reserve though it is very rare to spot one. Insects are abundant and some are quite spectacular such as; the Goliath beetles, pink and green flower mantis, and numerous colorful butterflies (over 489 species).
Particularly well represented groups are ants (Formicidae), Lepidopterans, Orthopterans, and beetles. Gastropods, millipedes and spiders are also common however the flora and fauna of Kakamega Forest has not been extensively studied.
Environmental issues of the forest
Local citizens, especially those living near the forest, fully rely on the forest to supply important resources such as; firewood, building poles and traditional medicines.
Cattle grazing occur in some of the glades and the region is said to be one of the most densely populated rural areas in the world and pressure on the forest resources is considerable.
Tourism in the forest
The Southern part of Kakamega forest (Isecheno Forest station) managed by the Kenya Forest Service is the most accessible in tourism.
The forest resides a famous tree called ‘’Mama Mtere tree’’ of which it is a historic tree and the most photographed tree in Kakamega forest however there are also strangler fig trees.
There are hiking trails in the forest that allow for forest walking, camping, hiking, primate watching, bird and butterfly watching, game watching and village walks.
Forest tours have attracted prominent personalities including outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya called ‘’Bob Godec’’ who paid a visit in April 2018 and marveled at its beauty.
The forest can be visited throughout the year and there are various accommodations which are in a very fine condition to offer a comfortable stay to its annual tourists.
Accommodations within the forest include; Rondo retreat centre, Isukuti houses, Kakamega guesthouse, Golf hotel, Siaya guesthouse, Mago guesthouse, and many others.