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Imenti Forest Mount Kenya: Kithaka
The Upper and Lower Imenti Forests are a 70 km2 (7,000 hectare) forest reserve that is an extension of the Mount Kenya forest complex, which extends like a finger 25 – 30 kilometres out east into the cultivated lands around Mount Kenya . These forests are a dry season refuge to elephants moving from the drier Meru plains and adjacent areas en route to Mount Kenya and also a destination for the elephant populations of Mount Kenya who migrate in search of a warmer climate.
At 5,199 metres (17,057 ft) Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The highest peaks of the mountain are named after Maasai Chieftans and are called Batian, Nelion and Point Lenana. Mount Kenya National Park, established in 1949, protects an area of 715 km2 (71,500 hectares) around the mountain. In addition, the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve protects an area of 705 km2 (70,500 hectares) around the National Park and the base of Mount Kenya. The mountains unique afro-alpine flora is considered to be an outstanding example of alpine evolution and ecology. The giant heather and Afro-alpine vegetation zones represent the rarest vegetation types on the African continent and many of the species found higher up the mountain are endemic, either to Mount Kenya or East Africa. In general the lower slopes of Mount Kenya are dry upland forest giving way to a montane type forest at about 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), with a belt of Bamboo at 2,400 metres (8,000 ft). Beyond the Bamboo belt is upland forest consisting of smaller trees such as Hagenia and Hypericum covered with lichen receding into afro-alpine vegetation. The lower montane forest between 5,900 and 8,200 ft. is heavily exploited for timber, much of the logging illegal, while the rich volcanic soils below 5,900 ft. are intensely farmed sustaining crops such as tea, coffee, beans, maize, bananas, potatoes and vegetables on the wetter southern slopes. The northern slopes are dryer, where there is large scale farming of wheat and barley.
As a vulnerable finger extending into this fertile land, the Imenti forest also faces extreme pressures from outside in the form of illegal logging, farming and settlements in the reserve. However, much work has been done over the last decade to protect the forest and reverse the damage caused by the illegal encroachment. Since 2000, two significant portions of the forest have been reforested and, under an initiative to fence the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve, the fence-line has been extended to include a sizeable portion of the Imenti Forest. This initiative has brought the Forest under the wing of the Mount Kenya Forest Reserve and National Park, ensuring the future of this important habitat. Moreover, as of 2010, elephants that access the Mount Kenya and Imenti Forests have been able to do so by travelling through an elephant corridor that links the Imenti Forest and Mount Kenya with the Ngare Ndare forest, Borana Ranch, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and beyond to Samburu National Reserve. This 28 kilometre corridor, which facilitates this essential elephant migration route, was made possible through land donated for this purpose by Marania and Kisima farms. It is thought that in the region of 2,000 elephants are able to benefit from this corridor that even has an underpass under the main road from Nanyuki town heading north. In addition to Kithaka, Orphans Ndume and Malaiaka (who died in childbirth aged 11 at the end of 2000) Imenti and Wendi are all lucky survivors of the ongoing human/elephant conflict that exists in this area and which this fence and elephant corridor is hoping to alleviate.