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.
Kenya is rich with over 35,000 species of flora and fauna found in large diversity of ecological zones and habitats, including lowland and mountain forests, wooded and open grasslands, semi-arid scrubland, dry woodlands, inland aquatic, as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. The species diversity is dominated by insects
The national biological resources are fundamental to national prosperity in the light of Kenya Vision 2030 and Millennium Development Goals. They provide Kenyan population with food, medicines, energy, shelter, employment and foreign exchange. Further, to offering multiple opportunities for human prosperity. Vital national economic engines such as agriculture, energy, tourism, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, business process outsourcing (BPO) and financial services sectors, all largely depend on the biodiversity in many aspects.
Wetlands: 467 inland lake and wetland habitat covering about 2.5% of the total area of the country Wetlands contribute greatly to Kenya’s economy in terms of agriculture, livestock production, energy production (through hydroelectric developments), fisheries and tourism.
Forests: Endowed with a rich array of plant and animal life. Some of the species endemic to the forest habitats are
found nowhere else in the world. Since species richness tends to correlate with the annual amount of rainfall,
wetter forests are richer in species.
Coastal forests have more values as centers of endemism with many plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Biodiversity is mainly in forests and wildlife parks and reserves.
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.
Although the biodiversity of Kenya remains highly protected, there are many unprotected areas that are causing its status to quickly decline due to a number of threats that have led to numerous conservation challenges. It should be noted that biodiversity assessments are nearly two decades old which calls for an urgent re-assessment to ascertain the current status of biodiversity.
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; they 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. They also provide excellent refuges and breeding sites for many coastal fish species, and important feeding grounds. Marine fisheries are not only an important source of protein for coastal populations but also constitute a significant economic activity. Although fishing is still done along the Kenyan coast at the artisanal level by locals, fishing activities are mainly conducted by a fleet of foreign-owned fishing vessels. Kenyan coastal coral reefs are high in biodiversity and tourism features (especially diving). In Kenya, inland waters occur everywhere and are a particular part of all landscapes. Lake Victoria produces 90% of Kenya’s total catch and sustains nearly half of the country’s population. Plant and animal species associated with inland freshwater wetlands are unique and highly specialized. In fact, some wetlands, especially in the extensive semi-arid parts of Kenya, provide the last refuge for rare and threatened species.
These are the open grasslands where most of the Kenya wildlife habitates. These ecosystems supports most of our National Parks and Game Reserves. 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. The National Institutional Survey confirms that most of the available data on flora and fauna are from savannah woodland biodiversity. The survey results confirms that data on savannah ecosystem specially the parks are more comprehensive and well documented.
Arid and Semi Arid lands (ASALS)
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. In order that we understand the dynamic of our ASAL biodiversity, more data is needed.
This encompass agriculture, agricultural research, gene banks, use of genetic resources for benefit of mankind, traditional use and genetic threats. The main features here includes adoption of measures for ex-situ conservation and improving required facilities and instituting measures to rehabilitate the threatened species.
Detailed information can be found in the fifth national report