Active volcanoes / Aktive vulkaner:

Elgon, Uganda  

View of the Volcano Elgon

Located to the west of Kitale is Mount Elgon National Park, established in 1968 and
covering 169 square kilometers (65 square miles). Mt. Elgon is the second largest extinct (?)
volcano in Kenya (second only to Mount Kenya).

Called Ol Doinyo Ilgoon (Breast Mountain)
by the Maasai, Mount Elgon straddles the Kenya/Uganda border. Wagagai, the highest
peak at 4321 meters (14176 feet), and the warm springs by the Suam River are technically
in Uganda, while Lower Elgon (4310 meters or 14140 feet), Koitoboss (4038 meters
or 13248 feet) (although someone says Koitoboss is in Uganda and is the highest peak), and Endebess Bluff (2563 meters or 8408 feet) are in Kenya.
From Tim and Lara Beth's Kenya Page - Mt. Elgon

The mountain is positioned approximately 100km northeast of Lake Victoria and straddles
the border of Uganda and Kenya. The international boundary is marked by the Suam and
Lwakaka Rivers, and the beacon on Sudek Peak. Administratively, the mountain falls into
two districts (in Uganda); Kapchorwa District to the north and Mbale district to the south.
Measuring about 80km from north to south, and 50km east to west, more than half of
Mt. Elgon (including the majority of its caldera) lies in Uganda.

Uganda Tourist Board Website

Monday, August 30th, 2004
Experts from the Geology Department of the University of Nairobi and the Ministry of Water
are camping at the Kipsio cave in Mt. Elgon District which has been emitting gases and smoke
causing fear of volcanic eruption.

A seismology monitoring centre had been set up at the cave to carry out consistent survey
which may unravel the cause of the emission of gases. The experts’ report would be used to
make a decision on whether to evacuate the local residents

The emission of gases had stopped, but experts still warned that there might be more
danger because they do not know what is happening underground.
From The East African Standard Online

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004
Signs of a possible volcanic eruption has sent a wave of panic through the 60,000-strong
community living at the foot of Mount Elgon in western Kenya.
Kenya's second highest mountain could erupt "any time soon", according to geologists,
who carried out investigations after reports of the mountain emitting smoke and a pungent gas.

An eruption could happen suddenly, was a conclusion after a change in temperatures
inside the cave, which had risen to 170 degrees Centigrade. Two holes about a foot-long
found 300 metres from the cave entrance were emitting gases and a subtsance suspected
to be molten lava - hot greyish white sludge.

Intermittent flames were also visible as the sludge continued to flow from the holes
while an acrid stench permeated the inside of the cave.

The Government yesterday put residents of Mt Elgon District and other parts of Western
Province on high alert after emission of smoke and gases intensified in a cave on Mt Elgon.
The emission of gases started two weeks ago.

The locals were further warned against taking rain water as it may contain poisonous substances from the emissions. (More about this later)
Mt. Elgon provides a vital source of good quality water to several million people in eastern Uganda
and western Kenya, and acts as a major water catchment area for the Lakes Kyoga, Turkana, Victoria,
and eventually the Nile River.

The Government was assessing the possibility of evacuating the residents particularly those
living on a 5km sq radius from the Kipsio cave situated at Namorio location of
Kapsokwony division. Instuctions has been given to seal off the cave area.
Mostly from

More news coming up during the day...

  Latest news always above. Below are old history.

Although Mt. Elgon was well known to Arab traders passing along old slaving routes to the
East (Kenya), explorer Henry Morton Stanley was the first to write about Mt. Elgon when
he presumably saw it while circumnavigating Lake Victoria in 1875.

Joseph Thomson, a British explorer and geographer was the first European to visit Mt. Elgon
in 1883. Thomson referred to the mountain as "Masawa" or "Elgon" and generated curiosity
among other explorers.

In 1890, with a 400 men caravan, Fredrick Jackson of the Imperial British Exploration
Association was the first European to visit the caldera and to climb any of the major peaks.
Ironically, Jackson climbed Sudek Peak from the south and probably never even saw
Masaba Peak, which was later named Jackson’s Summit after him.

Mt. Elgon has been called a "Mountain of Illusion" partly because of the number of hiking
parties lost on its slopes in the past and also because no one could determine its highest point.
Sudek and Koitobos Peaks (Kenya) were both proclaimed " the top of Elgon" at different
times. Wagagai, the highest peak (4321m), does not protrude markedly above the caldera rim
and conceals its height well. In fact, Wagagai Peak was overlooked by explorers until the
early 20th century.
Uganda Tourist Board Website

Mt. Elgon

Many land-living herbivores experience 'salt hunger'. Their diet of plants does not supply them
with enough minerals (eg sodium), so they seek these out in any digestible form that they can find.
On Mount Elgon, the only natural source of salt is more obscure - it is found in deep, natural
caves in the side of the mountain. The elephants enter these caves, as whole families with
youngsters in tow, and walk as far as 150 metres into the pitch darkness to find a salt seam
in the rock. They then excavate the mineral-rich rock with their tusks, chipping off rough chunks
and eating these hidden gems as a vital dietary supplement.
Read more about this at Born Free web-site:
"The Underground Elephants of Mount Elgon, Kenya"


If somebody asks you about Africa’s nature you will probably think first of its large herds of wild animals. Peatlands are not the first things to come in mind, because peatlands are generally rare on the African continent.

An important feature of the volcano is its central caldera. After the magma had erupted from the sub-surface magma chamber, its roof collapsed causing the formation of an up to 400 meter deep and eight kilometre wide caldera. Before that mega-event, Mt. Elgon may have been the highest mountain of Africa.

On the top of Mount Elgon night frosts are common, whereas the temperature at noon can reach more than 20 °C. With exception of a dry season between January and March and a shorter one in September, rainfall is regularly distributed over the year. From the foot of the mountain (with 1600 mm of annual precipitation) going upwards, precipitation first increases to decrease again to a mere 900mm/y at the top (Wesche 2002). These altitudinal climatic differences are reflected in the distinct vegetation belts. In the Ugandan part of Mt. Elgon the area up to 2400 m consists of agricultural land (mainly for crop production of bananas, coffee, potatoes), followed by montane rainforest, a bamboo zone, a montane forest zone, the Ericaceaous belt, and the afroalpine zone respectively.

Mt. Elgon is the home of several tribes, who inhabit the lower slopes. In former times the “Elgonys” inhabited even the upper parts of the mountain, where they kept cattle. The Elgonys used to take fires into the Ericaceaous and afroalpine zones to enlarge their pastures. During the 1980s they were resettled to the lower slopes as a nature conservation activity.

Carex-Dendrosenecio mire community near the outer rim
of the Caldera (3.900m)

At the higher parts within the afroalpine vegetation belt two real peatlands were found at 3900 m. They are situated at the outer rim of the caldera in basins among hills. Both peatlands are connected to lakes, although the latter were nearly or completely dry at the period of study. The groundwater level of the peatlands was up to half a meter below the surface –clearly caused by the dry weather conditions.

Brown moss community in a high altitude mire
inside the Caldera (4.220m).

The peat layers predominantly consist of slightly decomposed coarse sedge peat, and - in one core - brownmoss peat are present as well. The peat thickness of the upper mire varies between two and four meter deep, whereas the lower peatland is 7,10m thick. Both peatlands are dominated by an open vegetation of Carex runssoroensis.

Lobelia deckenii at 3,700m on Kilimanjaro
© Photo Mungo Ross

Typical other plants are Lobelia deckenii, Crassula granvikii, and Ranunculus volkensii in hollows, whereas on drier parts especially Alchemilla elgonensis and Deschampsia caespitosa are growing. Brownmosses cover the ground in more or less clear hummocks and hollows.

Terraced mires inside the caldera (>4.000m).
In the background, Kenya

There is a clear relation between the distribution of peatlands and the vegetation zones. In contrast to what Hedberg (1964) states, peatlands on the Ugandan side of Mt. Elgon are restricted to the afroalpine zone and no genuine mire was found in the Ericaceous belt or at lower zones. The extreme climate conditions within the afroalpine zone especially the night frosts, are decisive in preventing fast microbial decay of dead plant material.

From the page "Peatlands on the Ugandan side of Mount Elgon"
by René Dommain
pages 9-10



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