Taita is area of savanna and old mountains with moist mountain forests. There are about 340 000 people living in Taita Taveta county. Size of the county is 17 000 km2. Protected areas cover 67 % of Taita Taveta, making it one of the most protected areas in the world. Conservation areas include (among some others) Tsavo National Park and Lumo Conservancy. Savannah have abundant wildlife with all well known fauna, lions, elephants, antelopes, zebras, ostriches, and so on.
All photos above are from Lumo Conservancy, community owned wildlife sanctuary.
Mountains and forests that cover tops of the mountains in Taita are less known.
These mountains are called Taita Hills. Ancient forest have covered these hills for over 30 million years. Long time and steady tropical conditions at the equator allowed thousands of endemic species to develop. Taita Hills are part of Eastern Arc Mountains and one of Biodiversity Hot Spot areas of the world. There is more than 1500 endemic plant species in Eastern Arc Mountains.
However, remaining forest fragments are small. All combined, there is less than 10 km2 of natural forests in Taita Hills. And some of these are also mixed with pines, cypressus and eucalyptus. Animals and natural vegetation is packed to remaining forest fragments.
During 1955-2004 50 % of indigenous forests of Taita Hills were replaced by exotic trees (260 ha). These exotic trees, eucalyptus, cypress, and pine grow fast and produce much needed timber.
Change to exotic trees began even earlier, when missionaries advised people to plant exotic trees. They thought that area was too wet!
Change has been devastating to animals and plants, that can not survive with exotic trees. These trees use a lot of water, but they don’t attract water as indigenous forests do. Access to water is now issue in Taita Hills. Indigenous forests are also called water towers. Multilayered up to 50 meters tall forest harvest rainwater effectively. This change in forests has caused serious issues with lack of water in the hills, but even more in the surrounding lowland savanna area. Rivers dry up during dry season. There is no water for people, for fields, or for animals living inside fenced conservation areas.
Endemic fauna of Taita Hills have not been identified, there are unknown species in most likely all taxons.
The Taita Hills’ uniqueness and beauty is unmatched. Cool hills tipped with huge rock outcrops that are surrounded by evergreen forests and settlement of the Taita people, offers the best landscape you can imagine. The forests are characterized by a variety of tall trees with clinging vines, strange spots of lichens, hanging mosses and a variety of orchids that are true beauty to behold. The frequent encounter with many species of all sorts found nowhere else in the entire planet is astounding.
Preface from a book A guide to Taita Hills unique natural history by Lawrence Wagura (2014).
Whole book can be uploaded here: it has all information travelers and researchers coming to this area need. Book has great images and descriptions of all forest fragments, how to move around, flora and fauna, what places to visit (eg. sculls cave), lists of species etc.
Savanna surrounding Taita Hills is equally amazing with Tsavo National Park covering most of Taita. Bordering Tsavo are privately owned conservation areas Lumo and Sarova.
Taita Hills are rather densely inhabited. People mostly grow their own food and gather water from the roofs. Distance to community well is important during dry season in the lowlands.
Tsavo was established 1948. Tsavo East and Tsavo West cover more than 20 000 square kilometers. It is one of largest national parks in the world. Railway from Nairobi to Mombasa goes through Tsavo, dividing it. Even by train, it takes hour to cross it.
Bytebyer, Benny. n.d. “Taita Hills Biodiversity Project Report.” National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.: National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi. http://www.easternarc.or.tz/groups/webcontent/documents/pdf/THBP_final_report.pdf.
Myers, Norman, Russell A. Mittermeier, Cristina G. Mittermeier, Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca, and Jennifer Kent. 2000. “Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities.” Nature403 (6772): 853–58. https://doi.org/10.1038/35002501.
Pellikka, Petri K.E., Milla Lötjönen, Mika Siljander, and Luc Lens. 2009. “Airborne Remote Sensing of Spatiotemporal Change (1955–2004) in Indigenous and Exotic Forest Cover in the Taita Hills, Kenya.” International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation11 (4): 221–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jag.2009.02.002.
Wagura, Lawrence. 2014. A Guide to Taita Hills: Unique Natural History. Nairobi: ABC.
Wilder, C., T. Brooks, and L. Lens. 1998. “Vegetation Structure and Composition of the Taita Hills Forests.” Journal of East African Natural History87 (1): 181–87. https://doi.org/10.2982/0012-8317(1998)87%5B181:VSACOT%5D2.0.CO;2.