The Kakamega Forest

kakamega forest scene
For more pictures from Kakamega, see my Kakamega Forest Photo Gallery

The Kakamega National Reserve is a 36 km2 reserve, situated at the north end of the Kakamega Forest, in Western Province, Kenya, at an elevation of about 1560 m, along the northeastern edge of the Lake Victoria basin. Along its eastern edge rises the partially forested Nandi Escarpment which runs along the western edge of the Rift Valley. The Kakamega Forest is generally considered the eastern-most remnant of the lowland Congolean rainforest of Central Africa. Faunally and florally, Kakamega is dominated by central African lowland species, but due to its elevation (predominantly between 1500 m and 1600 m) and proximity to the formerly contiguous Nandi Forests it also contains highland elements and is thus unique. The forest boundary (including the reserves) encloses about 238 km2, of which less than half is still indigenous forest.

Throughout the forest are a series of grassy glades, ranging in size from about 1 to 50 ha, with a few larger clearings. The origins of the glades are uncertain. Some are certainly recent clearings, but others predate recent records. These may have originated from past human activity such as cattle grazing or may be the result of herbivory and movements by large mammals such as buffalo and elephants (both now extirpated 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. The larger creeks are usually bordered by a few to tens of meters of forest on either side which divide the glades, while the smallest creeks flow through open grasslands, often forming small marshy patches.


The Kakamega Forest is very wet, with an average of 2.08 meters of rain per year. Rainfall is heaviest in April and May ("long rains"), with a slightly drier June and a second peak roughly in August to September ("short rains"). January and February are the driest months. Temperature is fairly constant throughout the year, with mean daily minimums of about 11 C and mean daily maximums of about 26 C.

Flora and Fauna

No complete floristic studies have been done at Kakamega. The forest hosts about 160 tree and shrub species, many of Congolean lowland forest affinities, including a number of endemic plant species, mostly ferns and orchids. The flora of the open areas and glades has not been well studied. The glades often have small trees (Combretum molle, Psidium guajava, Maesa lanceolata, Harungana madagascariensis and Chaetacme aristata). Conspicuous flowering plants include flame lilies and Gladiolus. The forest edge is lined by dense thickets of Acanthus pubescens, a shrub with sharply spined, thistle-like leaves. Marshy patches are dominated by sedges and the grass Echinocloa pyramidalis.

The forest is best known for its diversity of birds: 367 species have been recorded (a checklist is available). The avifauna is a mix of lowland and highland species, but lowland elements dominate. Nine of the species that occur at Kakamega are found nowhere else in Kenya, and two of its species, Turner's Eremomela (Eremomela turneri) and Chapins' Flycatcher (Muscicapa lendu), are threatened.

Insects are abundant and some are quite spectacular, such as giant Goliath beetles (Goliathus goliathus), pink and green African flower mantids (Pseudocreobotra wahlbergi), and numerous colorful butterflies. Particularly well represented groups are ants (Formicidae), Lepidopterans, Orthopterans, and beetles. Gastropod mollusks, millipedes and spiders are also common.

Kakamega is also known for its diverse snake fauna, with over 40 species, although they can be difficult to find. Lizards are more in evidence, with various skinks (Mabouya spp.), chameleons (Chamaeleo spp.), and agamas (Agama spp.) the most common. Amphibians are represented by a number of anuran species, the most common being Bufo and Phrynobatrachus toads and Ptychadena (Rana) mascariensis frogs.

Except for the monkeys (Colobus guereza, Cercopithecus mitis, C. ascanius, and Papio anubis) and squirrels (Protozerus strangeri and Heliosciurus rufobranchium), large mammals are not much in evidence. Today only smaller antelope (primarily various duikers) and bush pig (Potamochoerus porcus) are present. Small carnivores, such as Egyptian mongooses (Herpestes ichneumon), African civets (Viverra civetta), servals (Felis serval), genets (Genetta tigrina), and palm civets (Nandinia binotata) are common; some larger carnivores, including jackals (Canis adustus), spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta), and leopards (Panthera pardus) also occur there. Although rodents, insectivores, and bats are clearly present, they have been little studied at Kakamega.

For more information:

On the WWW:

Kakamega: A Forest for the People. The ecology and conservation of the Kakamega Forest, with references, links, and travel info.

Kenya Parks Information: Kakamega Forest -- Kilimanjaro Adventure Travel

Kenya Wildife Service: Kakamega Forest National Reserve


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Clifton, M. P. 1980. Natural history notes from Kakamega Forest, western Kenya: Part 2, Lepidoptera. EANHS Bulletin 1980: 54-55.

Collar, N. J. and S. N. Stuart 1988. Key Forests for Threatened Birds in Africa. ICBP Monograph No. 3.

Cords, M. 1987. Mixed-species association of Cercopithecus monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. University of California Publications in Zoology 117: 109 + xiv pp.

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This page last modified on June 24, 2005, by Udo M. Savalli ()