KBA in Focus: Aberdare Mountains

By Joshua Sese

The Aberdare Mountains Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is in the central Kenya highlands, forming part of the eastern escarpment of the Rift Valley. It is a stunning landscape where lush forests, sweeping grasslands, bamboo thickets, montane moorlands and misty peaks converge to create a sanctuary like no other. It comprises 76,600 ha of National Park and 108,400 ha of Forest Reserve. The ecosystem is amongst the five main ‘water towers’ of Kenya, forming a catchment area for dams supplying water to Nairobi City, the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River draining into the Indian Ocean, the Ewaso Nyiro River draining into Lorian Swamp, and the Malewa River draining into Lake Naivasha.

The Aberdares Key Biodiversity Area boasts a diverse array of wildlife, including the critically endangered Mountain Bongo. Over 300 bird species have been recorded, including the rare and globally threatened Aberdare Cisticola, Abbott’s Starling, Jackson’s Widowbird, and Sharpe’s Longclaw. Endemic species such as the Aberdare shrew, Aberdare mole rat and the Aberdare frog highlight the area’s evolutionary importance. A hotspot for biodiversity, the KBA serves as a living laboratory for scientists, offering insights into ecological processes, species interactions, and the intricate web of life that sustains this remarkable ecosystem.

Regardless of its outstanding importance, the KBA now faces several threats, which include illegal logging, illegal grazing, poaching of wildlife, illegal water abstraction, destruction of riparian areas, excisions and encroachment of forest areas and climate change. There is also an imminent threat of infrastructural development. In January 2024, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved the construction of a49-kilometre road section cutting through the forest to connect Nyandarua and Nyeri counties. According to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, 104 hectares of vegetation in the KBA will be cleared for the road project. These will include 75 hectares of bamboo, 14 hectares of forest, and 14 hectares of moorland.

Safeguarding this essential site requires strong collaboration among government agencies, conservation organizations, local communities, and other stakeholders. Due to the site’s importance and uniqueness, countless restoration initiatives have been undertaken by the conservation community and other stakeholders around the ecosystem. Currently, the Conservation Alliance of Kenya (representing 73 member organisations, including Nature Kenya) has lodged an appeal at the National Environment Tribunal seeking to halt the construction of the proposed 49-kilometre roadsection. The Alliance has highlighted the detrimental impact of the road on the KBA and proposes an alternative route for the road that will have minimal effects on biodiversity and will be just as effective for travel.