Kilimanjaro National Park is one of East Africa’s best safari destinations where one should explore and be able to catch a glimpse of wildlife t the bottom of Africa’s tallest mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro, standing at 5896m is Africa’s highest mountain and a wonder to many who had its experience. It is not just among the most valuable standing features of Tanzania but also of pride to many Africans. To complete its wonder, surrounding it is a natural montane forest covering an area of around 75,575 hectares protecting the largest free-standing volcanic mass in the world. These are just a few features of Mount Kilimanjaro which led to the establishment of Kilimanjaro national park.
Kilimanjaro national park is located near Moshi town in the Kilimanjaro Region and it was first declared as a game reserve by the German colonial government in the early twentieth century and later designated as a forest reserve. The year 1973 is when it was officially declared as a national park and initially comprised of the whole of the mountain above the tree line and six forest corridors stretching down through the mountain forest belt. The world heritage committee recommended extending the national park to include more areas of the mountain forest. Following the 2005 extension, the national park includes the whole of the mountain above the tree line as well as the natural forest which was under Kilimanjaro forest reserve and as such fulfills the criteria of integrity. Kilimanjaro national park has been subdivided into small plots. Once inside the park, the thick lowland forest covers the lower altitudes and breaks into alpine meadows once the air begins to thin.
The park is found on the coordinates 20 50’-30 10S latitudes,370 10’-370 40E longitude a region which is highly characterized by a montane ecosystem. This ecosystem is as strikingly beautiful as they are varied and diverse. The climatic condition of the region brings about a great affection on this ecosystem which tends to get colder as the elevation increases. The park is equipped with adventures of its own, a variety of animals including elephants, buffalo, antelopes just to mention a few are well distributed throughout the park. The whole park including the mountain forest belt is very rich in species: 140 mammals, (87 forest species), including 7 primates, 25 carnivores, 25 antelopes and 24 species of bats. Above the tree line at least seven of the larger mammal species have been recorded (Child, 1965), although it is likely that many of these also use the lower mountain forest habitat the timberline the Kilimanjaro tree hyrax, the grey duiker and rodents are frequently encountered. The bush back and red duiker appear above the timberline in some places. Cape buffaloes are found in the mountain forest and occasionally in the moorland and grassland. Elephants can be found between Namwai and Tarankia rivers and sometimes occur at higher elevations. In the mountain forest, blue monkeys, western black and white colobuses, bush babies, and leopards can be found.
There are two wet seasons, November to December and March to May, with the driest months between August to October. Rainfall decreases rapidly with an increase in altitude. As you get to higher elevations of the mountain, the temperature falls rapidly making it much colder at higher elevations of the mountain. The prevailing winds, influenced by the trade winds, are from the southeast. January to March is the warmest month. Dense forests are common at a moderate elevation and climatic conditions tend to become harsher at higher altitudes. Conditions above 4000m can be extreme and the diurnal temperature range there is considerable. Most frequently envelops much of the massif but the former dense cloud cover is now rare. Although accompanied by more crowds.
The best months to climb Mount Kilimanjaro
The best months to climb Mount Kilimanjaro happen to be on the course of January through March, and later during September. This signifies a high population of tourists on the Kilimanjaro national park as well. This time is highly favored as it gives the greatest chances of warmer weather limited to less rain hence a comfortable environment for exploring deeper alongside with a comfortable trekking condition.
The park has five main vegetation zones: the savanna bushland densely populated sub-montane agro-forest, the montane forest belt, sub-alpine moorland, and alpine bogs. Above all, this is an alpine desert. Forests above 2,700m are within the National Park. According to Lambrechts et al. (2001), there are 2,500 plant species Mount Kilimanjaro a mountain that makes the park even more interesting, 1,600 of these animals are on the southern slopes and 900 within the forest belt. There are 130 species of trees with the greatest diversity being between 1,800 and 2,000 meters through Mount Kilimanjaro. There are also 170 species of shrubs, 140 species of epiphytes, 100 lianas and 140 pteridophytes on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. As you go on higher elevations, the plant community transitions to grassland or tundra.
The forest between 1,000 and 1,700m in the south and east has been extensively farmed with remnants of natural forest left only in deep gorges. In the drier west, there are large estates and ranches where some natural habitats still survive. The north and northwestern slopes are dominated by plantations of exotic Pinus species. The park is also associated with various rivers that act as part of the habitat for the animals in there. A good example is the Namwai and Tarakai rivers which favor elephants live within the park, despite the fact that some elephants can be found on higher elevations of the mountain.
As a matter of fact, Kilimanjaro national park is among the highest revenue generators in Tanzania when speaking of the tourism industry. In 2003 for instance, the park generated about US $51 million revenue which was one of the only two Tanzanian national parks to generate a surplus during that time. It was also reported that the park recorded 58,460 tourists during this year, of which 54,584 were foreigners and the rest being Tanzanians who build interest in visiting the national park. Of these tourists, only 16,425 managed to hike the mountain to various heights while only a few do manage to reach the highest peak of Mount Kilimanjaro
We can’t speak Kilimanjaro national park without mentioning the Chaga people who are famously known as wachaga. This is a diverse group of Bantu-speaking indigenous Africans and the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania. This is the indigenous group which traditionally lives on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The total population of this ethnic group is around two million and the common tribal languages spoken by the Chaga is divided into different areas such as Machame, Rombo, Ssiha, Marangu, Kibosho, Huru, Ngasa, and Vunjo. The Chaga land was among the earliest places to convert to Christianity which might have given them better access to the great economic advantage over other ethnic groups in Tanzania as they had better access to education and other necessary social services as Christians. However, there are still other religions such as Islamic as well as African indigenous religion which still persist among most societies.
It is my belief that Kilimanjaro national park is not only one of the most attractive places that our country embraces, but also among the mighty wonders of the world. With Mount Kilimanjaro within the heart of the park, a dual interest of tourists is established. The park actually normally gives tourists a reason to visit Tanzania and specifically Mount Kilimanjaro over other mountains in other places around Africa. It is a fact that most foreign tourists can’t comfortably step a leg out of Tanzania without exploring the wonders of this park. The park is a wonder whose wonders can only be experienced through a real adventure through the park. The park along with Mount Kilimanjaro acts as a very important asset to the nation and its people.