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Fauna and Flora

Fauna and Flora of Mountain Rwenzori National Park 

In general, large wild animals are quite rare in the Rwenzori but in the lower elevations, elephants and buffalo can sometimes be encountered. In lowland forests such as those near the Nyabitaba hut there are chimpanzees that can commonly be heard, but are rarely seen. More common are the blue monkeys and the Rwenzori colobus monkey. Hydrax, duikers and forest hogs may also be seen.

The flora of the Rwenzori is unlike any other place on earth, and in a word is magnificent. Similar types of plants can be found on Mt. Elgon, Kilimanjaro, Kenya and other high points in central Africa but nowhere in concentrations so luxurient and abundant as here. In the lower reaches, vast stretches of giant ferns cover the mountain sides. Then, in the range of 2500 – 3500 meters there are groves of bamboo on gentle slopes.

Slightly higher, one encounters giant heathers (Philippia benguelensis and P. johnstonii) that are often coated with thick mosses and the lichen Old Man’s Beard. At 3000 to 4000 meters elevation, giant tree groundsel (Senecio ericirosenii) and Lobelia bequaertii are both found, the later sometimes adorned with a spectacular display of flowers. This is also the range of the spectacular bogs with abundant liverwort, spagnum moss and other really cool vegetation.

 

At the highest elevations below the glaciated zone, one encounters magnificent forests of giant tree groundsels (Senecia adnivalis) and lobelia (Lobelia wollastonii) It has been found that Groundsel grow only about an inch (2.3 cm) per year. Given that they can reach a height of 8 meters or so, they can be extremely old. The giant size of the plants has been explained as a way to deal with the extreme fluctuation in temperature from sub-freezing nights to possibly quite warm days.

They tend to trap water with their leaves, and there is enough of this that it can’t fully freeze during the nights, thereby protecting the living part of the plant. In the day, the thin layer of ice melts and the plant is able to photosynthesize the abundant solar radiation at this latitude. Lobelia are much faster growing and send up magnificent flower stalks that often remain standing long after the plant dies. These forests are some of the most unusual and enchanting that I have ever encountered in all my travels.

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