Biodiversity Status and Trends


Kenya covers a land area of approximately 583,000 square kilometers. Kenya straddles the Equator between approximately 4.5 degrees South and 4.5 degrees North latitude. With a coastline of approximately 640 km, the total area of the Kenyan Marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles is about 230,000 square kilometers. Thus, by area, about 28% of Kenya’s ecosystems are marine and 72% are terrestrial. About two thirds of Kenya’s land is less than 900 meters above sea level and one third is comprised of highlands. The highlands, mainly in south-western Kenya, surround five major areas of mountains or hill ranges (Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, the Aberdares Range, the Mau Escarpment, and the Cherangani Hills). The Great Rift Valley, stretching north- south across the country, splits the highlands into a western and eastern part. The Rift Valley contains numerous closed basin saline lakes and some freshwater lakes, including Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo in the eastern branch of the Rift, and Lake Victoria, which lies between the two Rift branches. Freshwater and saline ecosystems cover about 8% of Kenya, including rivers, lakes and wetlands with Lake Victoria, Lake Turkana, Lake Naivasha, and Lake Baringo being the four largest inland water bodies.

 Vertebrates richness patternsViewed in Global perspective, eastern Africa is biodiversity-rich in terrestrial vertebrates, especially mammals and birds. Eastern Africa is shown in the red box. Orange and red areas indicate areas of high species richness, green and blue areas of low richness. Source: Walter Jetz.Biodiversity Atlas Kenya



Kenya is endowed with diverse ecosystems and habitats that are home to unique and diverse flora and fauna. . Kenya’s rich biodiversity can be attributed to a number of factors, including a long evolutionary history, the country’s varied and diverse habitat types and ecosystems, diversity of landscapes and variable climatic conditions. About 70% national biodiversity resources are found outside the protected, while the 30% are within protected areas that include national parks, reserves, sanctuaries, gazetted forests, and heritage forests.
Kenya is rich in biological diversity. Around 25,000 species of animal and 7000 species of plants have so far been recorded, along with at least 2000 fungi and bacteria. An enormous species of plants and animals inhabit the country’s varied habitats, from its crowded and colorful coral reefs to icy alpine moorlands.


Plant biodiversity

The Kenyan vascular plants diversity consisting of 7004 species comprises 1720 genera and 240 families.



Plant and fungi diversity in Kenya Kenya's 7 004 vascular plants comprise 1 720 genera and 240 families. The plant families are dominated by angiosperms (flowering plants), most of which are legumes (708 species) and grasses (576species). Other species-rich families are the Compositae (494), Euphorbiaceae (341), Rubiaceae (330),Orchidaceae (249), Acanthaceae (225), Labiatae (218) and Cyperaceae (211). Source: NMK, Biodiversity Atlas Kenya

Animal Biodiversity

Kenya retains a remarkable variety of globally important and locally valuable flagship animal species. These include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. The diversity of Kenya's wildlife has garnered international fame.Animal biodiversity hold medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial, aesthetic and recreational value and is protected and saved so that future generations can experience their presence and value.

Kenya has one of the richest avifauna diversity in Africa, with around 1100 bird species recorded (Bird committee 2009).

Kenya possesses a remarkable variety of globally important and valuable animal species. These include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates.

The wildebeest annual migration: A herd of wildebeest crosses the Mara River during the great annual migration.  Due to its greatness and uniqueness, this annual crossing has been dubbed the eighth wonder of the world and makes the Maasai Mara Game Reserve a “Tourist Mecca”. © Katie Hunt/flickr. Source Biodiversity Atlas





Forest and Woodland ecosystem


Forests are the backbone of Kenya’s economy through agriculture and tourism. They also support livelihoods through the provision of food, medicine, wood for construction and fuel, and services such as water catchment areas. They perform important watershed functions, in addition to providing sites for high plant and animal biodiversity.   Kakamega Forest has the richest plant diversity in Kenya.

Kenya has 3.5 million ha of forests, including indigenous forests, open woodlands, and plantations, and an additional 24.6 million ha of ‘bushland’. These are highly fragmented and degraded forests patches. An estimated 10 per cent of the original wet montane forest remains. Much of the forest cover was lost in the early stages of expanding human cultivation that began some 2,000 years ago and accelerated with the fivefold increase in population, and extensive agricultural expansion since the early 1900s. The demand for timber, fibre and fuelwood spawned by Kenya’s economic growth over the last half century, coupled with an insufficient forest plantation, settlement schemes, and illegal farming and herding, greatly accelerated forest loss and degradation.

Mau Forest is a forest complex in the Rift Valley of Kenya. It is the largest indigenous montane forest in East Africa. The Mau Forest complex has an area of 273,300 hectares (675,000 acres).The forest area has some of the highest rainfall rates in Kenya.[ Mau Forest is the largest drainage basin in Kenya.[ Numerous rivers originate from the forest, including Southern Ewaso Ng'iro, Sondu River, Mara River and Njoro River. These rivers feed Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron. Western slopes of the Mau Escarpment are covered by Mau Forest. read more.....

Kakamega Forest is a tropical rainforest situated in the Kakamega and Nandi County of Kenya, northwest of the capital Nairobi, and near to the border with Uganda. It is Kenya's only tropical rainforest and is said to be Kenya's last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent.Read more....

Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian (5,199 metres (17,057 ft)), Nelion (5,188 metres (17,021 ft)) and Point Lenana (4,985 metres (16,355 ft)). Mount Kenya is located in the former Eastern and central provinces of Kenya, now Meru, Embu, Laikipia, Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Tharaka Nithi counties, about 16.5 kilometres (10.3 mi) south of the equator, around 150 kilometres (93 mi) north-northeast of the capital Nairobi.[4] Mount Kenya is the source of the name of the Republic of Kenya.Read more...

Kenya's water towers read more....

Freshwater and saline ecosystems

Freshwater and saline ecosystems cover about 8% of Kenya’s surface area. These are important areas of biodiversity, food production, hydrological stability, mineral cycling and socioeconomic development. This series of freshwater and saline lakes and associated wetlands constitute vital stepping stones along the migratory route of thousands of birds. The marine waters and mangrove areas along the Kenyan coast are known to have rich biodiversity, much of which is still pristine, except on areas encroached upon; the y are key resources sustaining the country’s tourism industry. The mangroves system, though being rapidly degraded, provides local communities with timber, tannin and other products.

Wetlands are defined as ‘areas of land that are permanently, seasonally or occasionally waterlogged with fresh, saline, brackish or marine waters, including both natural and manmade areas that support plants and animals’ (National Wetlands Standing Committee of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Environment—GoK 2008). This definition includes swamps, marshes, bogs, shallow lakes, ox-bow lakes, dams, river meanders and floodplains, as well as riverbanks, lakeshores and seashores where wetland plants grow. The definition covers marine and intertidal wetlands such as deltas, estuaries, mud flats, mangroves, salt marshes, seagrass beds and shallow reefs.
Wetlands cover 3–4 per cent of the land area of Kenya. The size and composition of wetlands formerly varied with climate, expanding greatly in wet periods and contracting in dry periods. In recent decades the impact of human activity has played a far larger role than climate.

Lakes and rivers are bodies of water localized within a basin and surrounded by land. Lakes are relatively still waters, while rivers are moving waters on or below the land surface. The formation of lakes and rivers has been greatly influenced by the Rift Valley faulting, which divides the drainage basins between east and west in Kenya, and by mountain uplift. Inland waters cover about eight per cent of Kenya’s land surface. Freshwater resources, including rivers, lakes and swamps are widely distributed among the five main drainage basins.

Collectively, Kenya’s lakes and rivers contain some 20 billion cubic meters of water—which has a large bearing on local climate. They capture nutrients and sediments eroded from the land and so sustain a highly productive and diverse assemblage of plants and animals. Freshwater habitats support unique and specialized species, several endemics and many rare or threatened species. Lakes and rivers are important stepping stones for Palearctic migratory birds, flamingoes and shore birds. They also supply the bulk of the water that drives the Kenyan economy, from farming and ranching to industry, commerce and settlement. Freshwater fisheries have, until recently, been dominated by traditional and artisanal fishing communities but now sustain commercial fisheries in L. Victoria and Turkana. Rivers also produce hydroelectric power, filter and provide clear water for human settlement and, together with lakes, provide transport routes for commerce and a range of amenities that attract tourists, outdoor and water-sports enthusiasts.

Savannah Woodland Ecosystem

These are the open grasslands where most of the Kenya wildlife habitates. These ecosystems supports most of our National Parks and Game Reserves. Grassland ecosystems are, like the woodlands and shrublands, a mixture of habitats, depending on topography, drainage and soils. Grasslands unbroken by other habitats are a rarity in Kenya, confined largely to areas of volcanic soils such as the Athi Plains, ancient lakebeds such as Amboseli, floodplains such as the ox-bows of the Galana River, and estuaries and deltas such as the lower Tana River. In most respects the grasslands and shrublands occupy similar climatic and ecological zones, with the grasslands being distinguished as areas where grass cover exceeds shrub and woody cover, giving the appearance of open savannahs.

Therefore the biodiversity of the savannah woodlands have significant socio-economic importance to the economy of Kenya. Consequently, the conservation of biodiversity therein is a national priority.Grassland and shrubland ecosystems are commonly combined as the rangelands in terms of livestock production, the dominant land use. Collectively the rangelands cover a quarter of the Earth’s land surface and nearly three quarters of Kenya. They are important in carbon and water capture, flood and nutrient regulation, and in erosion control. Grasslands support the bulk of free-range livestock economies, especially cattle, sheep and goats, and some of the largest remaining migratory wildlife populations.


Arid and Semi Arid lands (ASALS) Ecosytems

In terms of spatial spread, this category covers nearly 75% of the land surface in Kenya. There is comparatively less diversity in this regions. However, the few species which habitat these sites exhibit high degree of resilience. These are Deserts  highly water-stressed environments where rainfall is sparse and plant growth limited to small grasses, herbs and shrubs that respond quickly to scattered and infrequent rain. Much of the desert is covered by weathered stone, known as jebbel, or by wind-blown sand dunes. Short, widely-scattered Acacias are the most characteristic vegetation feature of the deserts in northern Kenya.