Forests in Kenya

Discover the Forests in Kenya

Forests in Kenya

Overview of Forests in Kenya: Part I

Of the area of 582,646 km2 that Kenya covers, almost 2008 km2 are covered by natural and exotic plantation forests: So the forest cover is 3.4% of the total surface area and 15% of the most fertile land. Of these, 1,700 km2 represent indigenous forests, 122 km2 exotic plantation forests, 124 km2 privately owned forests and about 613 km2 of mangrove forests – Kenya has the most diverse forests in East Africa. Kenya Forest Service, a corporate body established under the Forest Conservation and Management Act no 34 of 2016 and which became operational on March 31st, 2017, has the overall mandate “to provide for the development and sustainable management, including conservation and rational utilization of all forest resources for the socioeconomic development of the country and for connected purpose”. The forests contain lowland rain forest in Western Kenya and montane forest in the Central and Western Highlands and on higher hills and mountains along the southern border. Many of these roomy forested mountain sections are of recent volcanic origin. Some forests occur mainly in strips bordering rivers and some are fairly extensive mangroves along the coastline particularly at Lamu and at the mouth of the Tana River. Highest diversities are seen in the coastal forests, the western plateau forests such as Kakamega, and at the compact geologically older mountains at the northern end of the Eastern Arc of block mountains – notably of Taita Hills and Kasigau.

“What an irony it is that these living beings whose shade we sit in, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb, whose roots we water, to whom most of us rarely give a second thought, are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding.” – Jim Robbins, The Man Who Planted Trees…

Map of Forests in Kenya.  Image Courtesy of Reddit
Map of Forests in Kenya. Image Courtesy of Reddit

Baringo County

1. Tugen Hills Forest

Tugen Hills Forest

Tugen Hills rise over 2300 ms, running in the middle of Baringo County with a north to south strike and flanked by the walls of the Great Rift Valley – Elgeyo Escarpment (west) and the Laikipia Escarpment (east). Tugen Hills are mainly forested, with most of the trees are indigenous plant species. Its two main forest sections are Kinyo Forest Reserve and Morop-Tarambas Forest Reserve. Tugen hills are significant water catchment areas for Lake Baringo and Kerio Valley. The major tribe in the area, the Tugen, also known as the Kamasia Tribe, hold in high esteem the landscape of Tugen Hills – which is the most distinguished cultural asset in Baringo. The lesser tribes – Njemps and Pokots – also show a kindred deference for Tugen Hills. One peculiarity of Kabarnet Town, which is located on the eastern flank of the Tugen Hills, are the steep gulleys that march down to meet the expansive Kerio Valley. These are best seen near the Ainamoj Village, en-route Kerio and Iten. The isolated outcrop at Kimngochoch, stands higher that most areas. The Tugen Hills landscape has various sights of interest.

2. Lembus Forest

Lembus Forest

At the southern extreme of the Tugen Hills lies Lembus Forest, a portion of the larger Londiani Forest Reserve. It was in Lembus area that land was excised for European settlement around 1905. The southern boundary of Baringo County is by and large marked by the road between Eldama Ravine and Kampi ya Moto. One of the most lauded spectacular drives in Baringo County is the short road from Emening (along Nakuru-Sigor Road), taking to the eastern side of Lembus Forest, en-route Tenges Town, which has been cut into the steep hillside. This narrow road with barely enough space for two vehicles only had enough space for one car up until the late 1980’s. “It is only wide enough for one vehicle, often with no passing places for several miles, and a driver is well advised to ascertain before leaving Sigoro that there is no other car on the road ahead” – J.T. Walsh.

3. Koibatek Forest

Koibatek Forest

Koibatek Forest, marking the southern limits of Baringo along the border with Kericho and Nakuru Counties, is the headwaters for the Molo River which flows down and drains into Lake Baringo.  The Kenya Forest Station at Sabatia – one of its seven forest stations – is a great jumping-off point to explore this 41 km2 floral rich forest. Also noteworthy is the “Maji Mazuri” settlement along Ravine-Makutano-Kampi ya Moto Road which has been inhabited by a curious mix of varied communities and who have coexisted peacefully for many a generation. It covers an area of approximately 41 km2. The larger part of Koibatek Forest is dominated by planted forests that cover an approximated area of 21 km2, while the remaining section of approximately 20 km2 is covered by indigenous forest.

Bomet County

4. Trans Mara Forest

Trans Mara Forest

Bomet County butts up against a long stretch of the great Mau Forest Complex, home to a variegated array of flora and fauna including the rare Yellow Backed Duicker that is endemic to the 2773 km2 Mau. The 344 km2 Trans Mara Forest is an outlying part of the Mau Complex, which encompasses seven forest zones of Mau Narok, Maasai Mau, Eastern and Western Mau, South and South West Mau and Bomet’s Trans Mara Forest. Nyakweri Forest is the largest remaining forest section of Trans Mara District and forms part of the dispersal area of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Despite its faunal interest of 200 bird species and 50 animal species, both Trans Mara and the Mau itself are underdeveloped for tourism. It was gazetted in 1941 as a Forest Reserve. Still and all, most of its forests have been the subject of wanton defacing and sullying. Unique to Trans Mara Forest, one of the spry closed-canopy forests in Kenya, is that its integrity is part thanks to the Maasai: “In their simplistic and unsophisticated existence, they treat forests as a gem, just as they do their livestock that they regard as the source of life itself”. Today, though not armed, the Saparingo rangers of Trans Mara Forest opt for participatory dialogue when engaging with the community.

5. South Western Mau Forest Reserve

South Western Mau Forest Reserve

The South Western Mau National Reserve is the new name for what has been simply familiar as the South Mau Forest, and a part of the Mau Complex which was officially gazetted in 1954 as a Forest Reserve. The total combined area of Mau Complex originally estimated at 4,000 km2 of precipitous rugged woody country in the 1960’s is now estimated at 2,773 km2. Even so, it is ecologically and economically critical for Kenya and parts of East Africa. 10 million people depend on its rivers. It also influences the region’s micro-climate which creates ideal conditions to produce crops such as tea. Furthermore, it is one of Kenya’s main water towers. The destruction of more that 30% of Mau’s forest – either been cut down or degraded for putting tea production and other private sector industries – has triggered a national alarm, prompting establishment of secure protected reserves. The edge of the reserve is located 5 kms from Tirgaga Tea Factory at Ndarawetta. There is an all weather gravel road that climbs an easy gradient passing tea farmlands. Although it still under utilized as a destination, replanting the degraded forest sections and regulating access have commenced.

Bungoma County

6. Chepkitale Forest

Chepkitale Forest

Peculiar about Chepkitale Forest are its inhabitants, the Ogiek – a hunter and gatherer tribe who have subsisted inside it for decades.  They live in a 178 km2 forest section in the upper reaches of Mount Elgon Forest Reserve in Bungoma County. Despite many lost efforts by both the National and Local Government bureaus to evict the Ogiek from the Chepkitale Forest, they continue to thrive here in what they strongly regard as their ancestral land. The Ogiek Community have since developed customary rights to manage the forest ecosystem and, by the same token, developed ways of life and traditional mastery of the forest. In January 2011, the Ogiek Tribe of Mount Elgon requested urgent help from the Forest Peoples Programme to combat future evictions from their ancestral land.

Elgeyo Marakwet County

7. Bugar Forest

Bugar Forest

Little more than 2 kms north of St. Patrick’s High School, extending northerly through Singore to near Chebiemit, is the Bugar Forest. Part of this forest is the largest planted forest of its kind in Elgeyo Marakwet, traditionally put to use to cultivate logs for the production of timber. The completion of Iten-Bugar Road in 2018 made access to this forest as well as to Bugar Town (one of eight main towns in Elgeyo Marakwet) much easier. The main urban centres in the County are: Iten, Tambach, Kapsowar, Chepkorio, Chebiemit, Cheptongei, Kapyego, Bugar, Flax, Chesoi and Kapcherop. Most of these are situated in the highlands, while at the Kerio Valley small markets and trading centers such as Arror, Tot, Rimoi and Kimwarer are less busy and far-between. Although rarely exploited as a touring destination, there are numerous public entrances to the forest for exploring the woodland, which is flanked by Elgeyo Escarpment on its eastern limits. The omens are that Bugar Forest will become for Elgeyo Marakwet what many forests in the fast-growing areas of have become: attractive scenically but perpetually under threat of anthropogenic activities to clear land for settlement.

8. Kessup Forest

Kessup Forest

Shortly after leaving Rimoi National Park passing Kessup Village on the way to Tambach, the Kessup or Kaptagat Forest seen to the right forms lovely views. It is one of two forests located along the highland area of the Elgeyo Escarpment in company with Bugar Forest further north. Despite being the smaller of the two forests, Kaptagat Forest is more famous because it is by-passed by the Iten-Tambach-Kabarnet Road. In all, it occupies 26 km2, of which: 17 km2 are under indigenous cover; 7 km2 under planted forest; and 2 km2 are under grass and marshlands. Kessup Forest is an important water catchment for Rivers Kessup, Naiberi and Elgarini. It also feeds the stunning Kessup and Torok Falls. Owing to anthropogenic activities, some of its forest patch has been degraded, either to inch out more land or for its valuable timber, ergo defacing its rich biodiversity.

9. Embobut Forest

Embobut Forest

Gazetted in 1962 as a Reserve, the 220 km2 Embobut Forest is the most distinct feature in the northwest corner of Elgeyo Marakwet County. This forest forms part of Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve. Although rarely travelled, the drive to Embobut Forest on the narrow road with some romantic stretches could round up a perfect trip to the County. In some sections, the rippling hummocks form scenic crests that are the stuff of postcards. In the past two decades, Embobut Forest gained unwelcome notoriety as its indigenous forests came under threat, owing to the dodgy settlers who have destroyed its ecosystem.  Since the 1960’s, the Sengwe Community, who are a native tribe residing in Embobut Forest, has been evicted many times, as a course to bring to a halt its wanton destruction and deterioration; with little success. It’s located about 60 kms from Iten Town.

10. Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve

Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve

Cherangani Hills Reserve, gracefully marking the northern boundary of Elgeyo Marakwet County, gathers-up the western wall of the Rift Valley from where the Elgeyo Escarpment terminates, and extends it northbound into Uganda. All in all, the Cherangani Hills Forest Reserve covers about 1140 km2 traversing four counties in the north and western region of Kenya – West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gichu. It is comprised of twelve extensive forests – Kapollet, Chemurkkoi, Cheboyit, Embobut, Kaisungor, Kipkunur, Kiptaberr, Kapkanyar, Sogotio, Toropket, Kerer and Lelan. This expansive reserve and its associated sub-tropical forests is one of the magnolious natural heritage of the North-Rift Touring Circuit. Much like the Mektei Ridge, at the opposite end of Elgeyo Marakwet, the Cheranganis are marked by heavily gullied forested tops, which in some sections become sheer cliff walls. Atop these very steep ridges is where the River Nzoia partly has its source. The magnificence of the illustrous Cheranganis’ can be appreciated near Arrow and Chebara, 32 kms north of Iten.

Embu County

11. Njukiri Forest

Njukiri Forest

Njukiri Forest (in Embu) and Njukiini Forest (in Kirinyaga) form a contiguous forest block at the eastern base of Mount Kenya. In Embu, Njukiri Community Forest Association (NCFA), with support from Kenya Forest Service, has been continually involved in tree planting exercises to replenish the degraded areas. This was in recognition that the environment and forests protection is a shared responsibility that ought to be pursued tirelessly by all. Between 2015 and 2017, NCFA planted 150,000 tree seedlings, 75% exotic and 25% indigenous species, with an average survival rate of 75%: While Kangaita Community Forest Users Association has replenished 55-hectares of Njukiini Forest in Kirinyaga County.

12. Murinduko Hill Forest

Murinduko Hill Forest

Not far from Njukiri Forest, south of Embu Town along B7 Embu-Kivaa-Kitui Road, sits Murinduko Hill. Much of the 19.42 km2 Murinduko Hill Forest sits in neighbouring Kirinyaga County but it is easier approached via Embu Town. During the colonial area, Murinduko was part of Njukiini Location, an area that stretched as far as Njukiini and Njukiri Forest. It is one of few isolated hills that terminate the gently rolling landscape hitherto seen on the approach to Embu from Makutano. Murinduko Village (1350 ms above sea level) is a non-irrigated area outside Mwea Irrigation Scheme. It is situated on the slopes of Murinduko Hill and is served by two streams that flow at the edge of the village. Murinduko Hill Forest, which has the highest representation of larval habitat types among the forests in Central Kenya, also has a delightfully unique topographic profile, especially of its cliffs, gorges, and valleys pieced together by the river action and temporary pools formed within the forest. The local community run ecotourism tours around the forest to the unique landforms, apiary, and traditional shrines.

13. Kirimiri Forest

Kirimiri Forest

Easily sighted from Karue Hill (and vice-versa) and about 6 kms away through the villages, Kirimiri Forest is divided into four zones: farmland comprising of tea; forest edge comprising of pine tree; a mixed forest with pine trees; and an intact indigenous forest. On the whole, it covers almost 1.7 km2. Despite having sustained some degradation over the years, to inch out land for farming and development, this forest patch now managed by Kenya Forest Service is for all that still a fetching forest. It is one of the smallest forests in Central Kenya but far important than its size suggests. Kirimiri Hill, rising to 1790 ms, dominates much of its landscape and is a great walking trail, yet, it is the triple-waterfall-run which offer the major attraction to the visitors to Kirimiri – starting at the twin Nthenge-Njeru Falls, through to Thungu Falls. “There are caves near these waterfalls and others around Kirimiri Hill which are historically significant as they served as hideouts for Mau Mau brigades. It’s located in Mukuuri location.

14. Kiang’ombe Forest Reserve

Kiang'ombe Forest Reserve

This is the largest of Embu’s forest system and is easily accessible from the Ena-Siakago-Kiritiri Road or Embu-Kiritiri-Kitui Road. It occupies about 20 km2 of a predominantly indigenous forest, with less than 5% exotic plantations mainly found at the foot and top of the Kiang’ome Hill. Likewise, its wooded landscape is also one of the most over exploited hilltop forest, which has gained enormous support for its sustainable conservation and rehabilitation. The forest reserve is separated from Mumoni Hills, in Kitui County, by a broad valley through which the Tana River, and to the east – where the Mumoni Hill sits – the landscape is typified by semi-humid to semi-arid open plains. To the southwest, sits Kianjiru Hill. North and northwest of Kiang’ombe the area contains a superb display of a verdant undulating landscape backdropped by the magnificent Mount Kenya. It is the Kiang’ombe Hill, rising to 1804 ms, that draws walkers to the reserve. The eminent feature in the reserve is the block of resistant granitoid gneiss forming the central Kiang’ombe Hill. It’s found in Siakago about 12 kms north of Kiritiri.

15. Mount Kenya Forest

Mount Kenya Forest

Mount Kenya is more scenic than faunal and is a key attraction for hikers and mountaineers – not motorists. Howbeit, it is possible to drive from Nanyuki to the far end of Sirimon Track and Old Moses Camp (Judmier Camp) at 3300 ms. There are 8 walking routes up to its main peak spread around the Mountain in the five counties whose borders extend to its highest peak. Sirimon and Naro-Moru Routes being the most frequented. Of the two routes in Nyeri – Burguret and Naro Moru – the latter which follows the Naro Moru River to a clearing at 10,000 ft then onward to Teleki Valley (15,700 ft) and Point Lenana (16,355 ft) is widely popular. Mount Kenya National Park is denned as the area above the 11,000 ft contour, under the aegis of Kenya Wildlife Service. About half of the remainder of the area between the 11,000 ft and 5,000 ft contour is the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve under Kenya Forest Service – with stations at Nanyuki, Gathiuru, Kabaru, Hombe, Ragati and Castle Forest Lodge and Irangi in Embu.

Homa Bay County

16. Gwasi Hills Forest

Gwasi Hills Forest

Rising abruptly from Kavirondo Gulf to 2,133 ms, the highly dissected massif of the Gwasi Hills, in part forested, covers 1,048 km2 at the northwest corner of Homa Bay County, south of the Mfangano Island. Only along the upper reaches and hilltops of the steep-sloped Gwasi Hills do the deciduous seasonal forests occur, and much of the lower regions are outgrown with thickets and savanna type vegetation which eventually merges with the Lambwe Valley, immediately south and south east. The outer extent of the Gwasi Hills are typified by steep, deeply gullied stack ridges of volcanic rocks called Kisingiri with high points at Gembe (6,230 feet), Sumba (6,034 feet), Gwasi (6,384 feet) and the Usengere, also known as Kwirathia (7,454 feet). The Gwasi’s form a magnificent backdrop at Mfangano, Rusinga, Takawiri and Kimamboni Islands – south of these hills – and at the Ruma National Park, which sits east of these hills. Locally known as the Gonsi or Usengere Hills, meaning ‘the revered and sacred shrine’, the steep-sloped Gwasi Hills are endowed with a pleasant diversity of biota and scenery.

Kakamega County

17. Kakamega Forest Ecosystem

First mentioned as ‘Muliru Itaho’ (Itaho Forest) in the 1913 map, this treasured 240 km2 forest patch was originally managed by the local people and the village elders, who were responsible to the Local Native Council. Its first physical forest border, with the Government recognizing the need to protect it, was established around 1908-10, again in 1913 and later in 1929-1932, placing it under colonial protection and run by the Native Council. In 1931, the Forest Department took over its management and thereafter, in 1933, it was gazetted as the Kakamega Forest, classified as a Trust Land Forest – owned by the locals and managed by the Government. Between 1936 – 38, its boundary was planted with Eucalyptus trees prior to its conversion into a Central Government Forest, in 1964. In 1967, the Nature Reserves of Isecheno, Yala and Kisere were created. Finally, in 1986, two chunks in the north area were hived-off Kisere Forest (471 ha) and the northwest quarter of Kakamega Forest called Buyangu (3,984 ha) to create the 4,455 ha Kakamega National Reserve now tightly run by Kenya Wildlife Service.

Map of Kakamega Forest Ecosystem.

Kericho County

18. Mau Forest Complex

On any given day, hundreds of people descend on the Mau Forest Reserve in search of its riches. In recent times, some have found themselves permanently attached to the forest, even living in it, in line for a salutory supply of its stocks. Off to one side, the Mau Forest Reserve supports the livelihoods of millions of people in Rift Valley and Western Kenya. In the tea sector alone, about 35,000 jobs and the livelihoods of 50,000 small farmers, along with 430,000 indirect beneficiaries from its ecological services. It also forms the upper catchments of 12 main rivers that drain into 5 major lakes (Baringo, Nakuru, Natron, Turkana and Victoria) and supplies the Masai Mara National Reserve. The landscape of the Mau Reserve – the largest closed‐canopy forest in Kenya and the largest of the country’s 5 watersheds – is eminently salubrious, yet, in reality, it is a pain to come within doors of the Mau Forest Reserve without putting nature on one side and civilization on the other side. A symbolic relationship that answer to the frantic deterioration of the Mau, where some 1077 km2 representing 25% of the forest has been depleted in the past 15 years. In 2001, 61 km2 was converted to settlements. One is capacity, another is increased pressure on land for tillage.

19. Matasia Forest Station

Part of Matasia Forest Station.  Image Courtesy of KFS

At Masaita, 4 kms from the B1 Kericho-Kisumu Road en route Londiani, stand in the rural monastic setting enclosed by pretty hills the Masaita Forest Station, and home to the Kenya Forestry College. The place is conducive for study and research, and with the beautiful mountainous scenery rather pleasant for site-seeing, camping, mountaineering, bird-watching and other game and general recreation in a cool forest biome. Masaita Forest Station is part of West Mau Forest Complex with an area of 41 km2, and its forest block was formally part of the Londiani Forest which was gazetted as Forest Reserves in 1962. In 1972, the Masaita Forest Block was handed over to the Kenya Forest College (KFC) so as to be under one administration. Today, it’s used for technical training of Forest Managers and for testing of new forest practices for the benefit of Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Forestry College (KFC) itself.  The stocked sections of the Masaita Forest comprises substantially of Cypress, Pine and Eucalyptus as major commercial planting tree species that constitute 82%. It is a major source of Kipchorian River and its tributaries.  Masaita Forest also is home to fine flora and fauna. It harbours Colobus monkeys, rare moths, wild hare, some species of antelope, wild pigs, porcupine, ant-bears, squirrel and bushbucks, among more.

Kiambu County

20. Kinale Forest

Kinale Forest in Kiambu County

Kinale Forest, set at Lari, is one of the surpassing roadside attractions between Nairobi and Naivasha – alongside the memorable view of the Great Rift Valley near Limuru. This forest forms the lower sections of Nyandarua Forest, more proper Aberdare Forest. The unusually reposeful forest – a classic lovers patch – is best known for the symmetry of its slender softwood planted forest and its evergreen carpet of trim indigenous grass. Kinale Forest is also a photographers paradise owing to the play of light on the trees and its pretty symmetry. If the roadside lure of Kinale becomes irresistible, it is perfectly okay to drop-in at the forest and enjoy a few fleeting moments wandering it on foot. There is no cover charge for entering Kinale Forest. It is found at Lari about 61 kms from Nairobi.

21. Kereita Forest

Kereita Forest in Kiambu County.  Photo Courtesy of Mansoor jiwani

The 47 km2 Kereita Forest, also known as Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, marching with the southern end of Aberdare Range and eastern ridge of the Rift Valley, is the paragon of the primeval forests in Kiambu. Since 1996, Kijabe Environment Volunteers (KENVO) has worked assiduously with the locals around the Kikuyu Escarpment with a primary focus on conservation and reforestation in response to anthropogenic pressure. The adventure outfit at Kereita is simply known as The Forest. From their base, adventure-makers can “answer the call to the wild” in more than a few ways that include riverine walks, fly fishing, exploring Thaba Falls, mountain biking, horse riding, archery, paint-balling, foot golf, and tree planting. Unique to The Forest is its 2 kms long zip line, operated by the Flying fox, which is Kenya’s longest. It offers unparalleled views of Kereita Forest and Aberdere Range. There is also an on-site restaurant and a goodly camping site. For a more conservation-oriented trip, callers to the forest can visit Kereita Tree Nursery based at KENVO’s Resource Centre, adjacent to the forest. The second nursery at Carbacid, begun in 2004, is primarily funded by the Carbacid mining company, which mines carbon dioxide in the area. Kereita is also designated as an Important Birding Area home to at least 120 bird species including Turacos, shrikes, cuckoos and the rare Abbott’s starling. It is found 40 kms from Nairobi.

Into the Forest we Went – Karura Forest

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, strongest, ideal trees grow”.