The highest mountain in Africa, which is also one of the largest extinct volcanoes in the world, can be found in Tanzania. At 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) and with no range of peaks bounding it at any of its point or line, Mount Kilimanjaro likewise is the world’s highest mountain that stands alone. This imposing landmass is about 97 kilometers (60 miles) long and 76 kilometers (47 miles) wide.
The solitariness and altitude of Mount Kilimanjaro in relation to its environment mean that it wields a very strong influence on the climate that prevails over it. As it stands alone about 322 kilometers (200 miles) south of the equator, and with no peak ranges to block the easterly winds blowing from the Indian Ocean, the weather condition that prevails in the mountain’s lower regions is very much different from that prevailing in its upper zones.
Hot, humid tropical weather is experienced at the lower regions of Mount Kilimanjaro; vegetation and wildlife abound in these regions. On the other hand, cold, dry climate prevails in the upper regions of the mountain, and there is very little plant and animal life in these regions. Mount Kilimanjaro has five climatic or ecological zones that differ widely in temperatures and wildlife.
This area is referred to as the “Bushland” zone. It is approximately between 800 and 1,800 meters (2,625 and 5,900 feet) in altitude. The average temperature in this zone ranges between 21 and 27 degrees Celsius (70 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit). The open grassland surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro actually extends to this area, with much of it having been cleared by human settlers for cultivation.
The presence and continued increase of human settlements have forced large animals to move up to the next higher levels, leaving a few small mammals to dominate the wildlife in this region. Included here are the genets, bushbabies, and the tree dassies. Several species of birds can also be found in this zone, such as the white-browed robin-chat, black-eyed bulbul, speckled mousebird, bronze sunbird, and the bell shrike.
The “Rainforest” zone is about 1,800 to 2,800 meters (5,906 to 9,186 feet) high. The dense forest that characterizes it surrounds Mount Kilimanjaro. Of the five ecological zones, the rainforest zone receives the highest amount of rainfall annually, at a little over 200 centimeters (about 80 inches). It is for this reason that approximately 95 percent of Mount Kilimanjaro’s water comes from this zone.
Similarly, the rainforest zone harbors the greatest variety of plant and animal species among all the ecological zones. The forest trees teem with ferns, lichens, and mosses. Some of the primates found here include the Anubis baboon, diademed monkey, and the black-and-white colobus. Other mammals, like the leopards, lions, civets, mongoose, and the bushpigs roam freely in the dense forest. Various species of antelope are widespread in this area, particularly the bushbucks, suni, and the grey duiker. The silvery-cheeked hornbill and the hartlaub’s turaco are just two of the many bird species that take shelter in the zone’s tall trees.
At around 4,000 meters (13,123 feet), the vegetation is typical of a boggy area, occupied prominently by heathers, sedges, and mosses. Thus this region is called the “Heath” zone. Also sometimes called the “Low Alpine” zone, this cool region is characterized by wet uncultivated land covered with scant vegetation. The lobelias, senecios, and other similar flowering plant species grow in this region.
There are a few large animals that can be found in this zone, such as the elephants, leopards, and the cape buffaloes. Smaller mammals include several antelope species like the common eland, klipspringer, and the common duiker. This region shelters a variety of bird species. They include the bearded vultures, moorland chat, augur buzzards, and the crowned eagles.
The “Alpine Desert” zone begins at around 5,000 meters (16,404 feet). Extreme harshness characterizes the climate that prevails over this region. Its dry and desolate ground is the result of the little rain and strong sunlight the region receives. Equally exceeding the ordinary is the variation in temperature. The temperature during the day can be simmering, rising to as high as 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit). At night, it can drop to below the freezing point of 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
Except for some ground-dwelling insects and a few species of spiders, it is quite difficult for wildlife to survive in this region because of its severe climate. Also, the strong winds prevent birds from coming to the area.
The “Apex” or topmost region of Mount Kilimanjaro is also called the “Arctic” zone, in obvious reference to the arctic conditions that prevail here. The night is bitter cold while the day can be severely hot – brutal conditions that make it virtually impossible for any plant or animal life form to exist.
The first successful ascent to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro was made by the tandem of a geographer from Germany and a mountain climber from Austria in 1889. Several more successful climbs from different approaches soon follow. Today, Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the favorite travel destinations not only in Africa but in the entire world.