Highest mountain in Africa on the verge of losing its glory

By Apolinari Tairo l eTN Africa


Covered in mist, full of legends and mystery, Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania, otherwise known as 'the roof of Africa', stands to lose its beautiful ice cap unless deliberate efforts are taken to save this leading tourist attraction site in East Africa.

Standing freely and majestically with its snow gleaming in the sun, Mount Kilimanjaro is in great danger to lose its eye-catching glaciers in few years to come due to global warming and an increase in human activities on its slopes.

Located some 330 kilometers and three degrees south of Equator, Mt. Kilimanjaro, an   awesome and magnificent mountain, is the highest mountain in Africa and one of the leading single free standing mountains in the world. It composed of three independent peaks --- Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira covering a total area of 4,000 kilometers. The snow-capped Kibo with permanent glaciers covering its entire peak is the highest at 5,895 meters high and is the most tourist attracting natural sight, and the most explored and known by many visitors. But, senior conservator for Tanzania National Parks authority Mr. Lorivi ole-Moirana said the highest peak in Africa could lose its ice cover and glaciers between 2018 and 2020 unless global campaigns to save the mountain’s ecology are taken.

Mount Kilimanjaro was formed some 750,000 years and the present features were completely formed in the past 500,000 years after a number of upheavals and tremors which also caused the formation of 250 volcanic hills and crater lakes including magnificent Lake Chala on its southern slopes. The last volcanic activity occurred about 200 years ago and created a symmetrical cone of ash around Kibo peak, and since then, the mountain has been staying at peace until today. Moirana, a senior scientist and once the head warden for Mount Kilimanjaro, said global warming has been a major cause in speeding up the melting process of the mountain’s glaciers. “International agreements and initiatives on climate change would be the possible options in saving Africa’s natural heritage including the continent’s highest peak of Kilimanjaro,” he said. “Non governmental groups should be a pushing force for global initiatives to save this highest peak of Africa now the World Heritage Site under the United Nations watchdog,” Moirana noted.

Mount Kilimanjaro’s prominence had attracted several tourist companies, non-government groups, government departments and individuals to label their businesses, services or activities with the name of Kilimanjaro. The mountain is a brand mark for marketing African tourism. Tanzania Tourist Board, the Tanzania’s official public tourist marketing and development institution, has been marketing Tanzania as a tourist destination under the brand mark of Kilimanjaro. “Successful tourism marketing campaigns could prove to be a difficult task if Mount Kilimanjaro loses its whitish top cover,” said Amant Macha, the tourist board’s marketing manager.

The snow on the peak has been the most attraction selling the mountain’s name to the climbing and non-climbing tourists including the short-time visitors wishing just to admire the mountain’s natural beauty, Macha said. “Many foreign tourists want to know about the snow. They always want to know about the Mountain’s snow cover, the flakes and glaciers before deciding to fly to Tanzania or East Africa,” Macha said. “Snow gleaming photographs, images and posters of Kilimanjaro are the best tourism selling sort of media. The snow and glaciers on its top tell you what you view or a picture you see is Mount Kilimanjaro,” he said.

Although mentioned in African legends, the earliest written records of the Kilimanjaro date back to the second century when a Greek geographer Ptolemy from Alexandria in Egypt wrote about the land beyond  "Opone" and the great snow mountain in Rhapta. Opone, according to Ptolemy, is the coastal part of Somalia and northern coast of Kenya, and Rhapta is the big landmass or the great East African massif.

Mount Kilimanjaro’s prominence occupied European scientists and geographers after two German missionaries, Johannes Rebmann and Ludwig Krapf spotted the snow-capped mountain near the equator in 1848 and created hot debates across Europe. Their tales of a snow-covered peak near the equator, however, were not initially believed. Tales of a snow-covered peak near the equator, however, were not initially believed, until 1889 when Hans Meyer, a German geographer from Leipzig University climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and censored its snow cover. On its eastern-side, Mount Kilimanjaro has lost its ice cover and people once viewed its whitish beauty from the Kenyan side have lost their chance.

Tour manager with Shah Tours and Travel, a company specialized on Mount Kilimanjaro expeditions, and whose operations are located in Moshi town on the mountain’s foothills, said the mountain could lose its glory if its white cover disappear. “Someone among my clients could not view the snow from Voi town in Kenya’s eastern side where people in past years used to admire the mountain’s beautiful peak afar,” he said.

Mount Kenya, the second-highest peak in Africa is the other peak near the equator with permanent glaciers, which lost 92 percent of its ice over the past 100 years, said Fredrick Njau of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement. “The two mountains will totally lose their ice mass in less than 25 years if deforestation and industrial pollution are not brought to an end," said Njau, who also heads the organization's Mount Kenya Bio-Carbon Project. Both mountains in East Africa are important water catchments areas in Kenya and Tanzania, with many rivers originating from them. These rivers are major sources of water and power generated by dams. "Deforestation that has a direct link to climactic change has affected negatively on the glaciers on top of Mount Kenya," said Njau. "Millions who depend on the seven rivers that originate from Mount Kenya will be affected because some of the rivers are seasonal and may dry up,” he added.

African tourism and natural tourist heritages are facing imminent threat to lose their glory due to climate change that has been taking an alarming pace in drying up water sources among other effects, environmental experts warned. Taking the East Africa as a case study, United Nations (UN) environmental experts said that Kenya's sites are among the world's cultural and nature-based heritage sites that climate change threatens with destruction. East African mountains of Ruwenzori and Elgon in Uganda with a section of other mountain ranges in the region are losing their ecological heritage at an alarming rate due to global warming, posing great dangers to the regional economies.

Tourism is the regional economic sector highly affected with climate changes.  Wildlife parks and mountain related heritages make over 90 percent of East Africa’s tourist resources. They all depend on water to exist. Mount Kilimanjaro attracts between 25,000 and 40,000 foreign and local tourists per year and sustains livelihood activities to about four million people in both Tanzania and Kenya through agricultural and business undertakings.

But lack of knowledge on the side of local communities, coupled with little efforts by Tanzania government in protecting Mount Kilimanjaro have all led to random tree felling and frequent bushfires which are running to deplete the mountain’s green cover and cause it lose its natural glory.