Taita Taveta & the Tsavo Ecosystem
The Tsavo ecosystem is located south east of Kenya at an altitude range between 200m and 1000m above sea level. The Taita-Taveta District together with Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park make up the Tsavo Ecosystem. In the centre of the ecosystem are the Taita Hills which rise up to 1500 m and are densely populated due to much higher rainfall and therefore more agricultural potential in addition to the fact that lower lands is largely designated as a national park.
Generally, there are two rainy seasons, one between November and December and the other from March to May. However, rainfall is erratic and low and natural permanent water sources are very limited with the Galana, Tsavo and Athi rivers being the only perennial sources. There are some permanent artificial water points within Tsavo National Park (NP) which were primarily established to prevent wildlife from moving outside of the NP and to improve the tourist potential within the park.
There are three major vegetation types in the Tsavo ecosystem:
- Mixed Commiphora-Acacia woodland
- Riverine vegetation
Mixed woodland dominates the ecosystem and previously the Taita Hills were once capped by rich montane forests which comprise the only portion of the eastern arc range of forests in Kenya. The once extensive indigenous forests have been encroached upon leaving small remnants on the peaks of the hills and ridges. This ecosystem like many others worldwide is threatened by extinction due to the dynamics of increased population, socio- politics and economics. The gradual disappearance of these forests can be attributed to the demographic pressure for agriculture, firewood, timber and other wood related demands from the forests.
Tribal groups have used the land in the Tsavo ecosystem for thousands of years including the Watta, Taita, Taveta, Orma, Maasai and Kamba. Today, there are almost 400,000 people in the Tsavo ecosystem with the majority being subsistence farmers who are dependant on small plots of land for their livelihoods. Due to poor climatic conditions, poverty and little by way of income generating opportunities, people are often forced to engage in illegal activities such as poaching, bushmeat trade and charcoal burning.
Tsavo East and West National Park together make up one of the largest national park in the world with one of the most spectacular diversities of animals ranging from the large cats to over 200 species of birds.
The Tsavo National Park was gazetted in 1959 and has since been one of the major tourist attractions in the country. Unfortunately, local populations have benefited little from the tourism and therefore hold negative attitudes towards the wildlife perceiving them more as a burden that destroy crops than anything else.