Laikipia is a land of high plains and rolling hills straddling the equator between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare ranges on the eastern edge of the Great Rift Valley. Lying on the rain shadow of Mount Kenya, the 9,500-Km2 plateau, despite the elevation, (1,800 – 2,000M above sea level) receives much less rainfall than other parts of Africa of comparable altitude. As a result, most of Laikipia enjoys a cool, dry climate. To the north, the plateau drops away over the Laikipia escarpment to the arid semi-deserts of northern Kenya.
Laikipia is one of only a few areas in Eastern Africa, outside the region’s national parks and reserves, with sufficient natural habitat to support a full complement of large mammals including lions and elephants. Wildlife moves freely in our County across land holdings, private and communal, where people are an integral part of the landscape.
Laikipia’s natural vegetation is a mosaic of grassland, savannah and forest.
Extensive ranches cover much of Laikipia. On most private ranches, wildlife conservation and tourism activities are combined with raising livestock.
Land in the Mukogodo area of northern Laikipia is divided in to group ranches – community owned private companies that allow people to maintain a traditional semi-nomadic system of cattle-sheep-goat and camel rearing. Some group ranches have set up conservancies dedicated to wildlife conservation through community-ran tourism enterprises.
Laikipia’s only major towns with large residential areas are Nanyuki and Nyahururu. Smaller trading and administrative centers include Rumuruti.
There are six protected upland dry forests in Laikipia. Of these, five; Rumuruti, Ewaso Narok, Marmanet, Shamanek and Lariak are in the west corner of the region, on the northern foothills of the Aberdare ranges, north east of the town of Nyahururu. These are isolated, partially degraded fragments of a once continuous expanse of a forest bisected by the Ewaso Narok river . A sixth forest, Ngare Ndare on the northern foothills of mount Kenya in the east of Laikipia’s best preserved upland dry forest, covering an area of 5,500 hectares.
A seventh forest, Mukogondo in the remote ranches of Laikipia differs in being a dry forest – rooted not in the volcanic soils, but on steep hillsides of granitic composition. Being relatively inaccessible, Mukogondo is the most pristine of all Laikipia’s forest habitats. A strong sense of ownership among local people has contributed to tree planting and firewood collection.
In the case of Ngare Ndare, the conservation efforts has, with guidance from the Trust set up to manage this forest on behalf of the Kenya forest service resulted in significantly increased tree cover.
Ngare Ndare Forest
Ngare ndare forest is located in the transitional zone between the Montane forest of mount Kenya and the dry olive and pencil cedar forests and woodlands of the lower elevations. As such, it receives more rainfall than other more typical upland dry forests, and is moister. An enchanting place, Ngare Ndare offers some of the most scenic forest hiking and camping opportunities.
The dominant trees are olive and pencil cedar, but there are also some magnificent stands of Podo. Springs and underground aquifers in the forest feed several streams, making Ngare Ndare a significant rainfall catchment for rivers flowing north into the dry up country and on towards Samburu and Isiolo.
Ngare Ndare is one of only a few remaining thoroughfares for elephants migrating seasonally between Mount Kenya’s forests and the distant northern rangelands of Samburu. Each year, hundreds of elephants ply the Elephant Corridor linking the Mount Kenya National Park with Ngare Ndare. Ancestral pathways elsewhere, in the neighboring districts of Meru, to the east, have been blocked by settlements and farmlands.
Spanning 30,000 hectares of rugged hillside terrain in Northwest Laikipia, Mukogondo forest, is the largest and best preserved of all the region’s forests. That it has remained almost wholly intact is a tribute, not only to relatively remote location and dry surroundings, but also to the custodians of the Ndorobo hunter-gatherers who for centuries have been living in the forest.
The integrity of the forest has been widely respected. And today, Mukogodo is extolled as a model of sustainable use, and of the capacity of local people to safeguard the forest resources on which they depend.