Taita Hills

The Taita Hills (lat 3°25´; long 38°20´) are situated in the Taita-Taveta District in South-Eastern Kenya (Coast Province).

The Taita Hills cover an area of 1000 km2 and they form the northernmost part of the Eastern Arc Mountains. They are isolated from other mountainous areas to the southeast (Shimba Hills), south (Pare and Usambara Mountains), southwest (Mt. Kilimanjaro), west (Ngulia and Chyulu Hills) and northwest (Kenyan highlands) by the vast plains of Tsavo National Park / Tsavo plains.

Voi, the biggest city in the area (population 60 000) is situated on the plains near the border of eastern section of Tsavo National Park. Another town in the area is Wundanyi at the elevation of 1400 m in the hills.

From the level of 600-900 m a.s.l., the Taita Hills rise to a maximum elevation of 2208 m a.s.l. (Wuria peak). The mean annual rainfall ranges from 500 mm in the lowlands to over 1500 mm in the upper mountain zone. There are two rainy seasons in the area: March-May/June and October-December. The variability of precipitation from year to year is high, especially in lower altitudes.

The great number of ecological regions in the area is based mainly on the relief and the different climatic conditions in the area. The indigenous cloud forests of the Taita Hills, which are of great importance for conservation, have suffered substantial vegetation loss and degradation since the early 1960´s. To date about 400 ha of original forest is retained in a scatter of three larger remnants, Chawia (80 ha), Ngangao (123 ha) and Mbololo (220 ha), and nine tiny remnants, embedded in a mosaic of human settlements, small-holder cultivation plots and exotic plantations.

The population of the whole Taita-Taveta district has grown from 90,000 (1962) persons to over 300,000. The spatial distribution of the population in the area closely follows the climatic and other ecological conditions.

The land use in Taita Hills is dominated by intensive agriculture. Extensive agriculture and grazing are dominant land use types on the foothills and plains surrounding the hills. The largest, still fragmented, forests are located in the most remote areas.

The growing population in the hills and scarcity of available land has contributed to growing population pressure in the lowlands and to urban centres. The population density, however is still the highest in the hills. Both dominant subsistence farming and the high population pressure has caused dynamic changes in the land use patterns, leading to serious land degradation (e.g. deforestation, soil erosion, lowering of water tables) in the hills.

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