South Nguruman

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
The Nguruman Escarpment forms the western wall of the Rift Valley in southernmost Kenya, some 150 km south-west of Nairobi. The scarp rises steeply in a series of stepped, rocky faults from the flood-plain of the Southern Ewaso Ngiro river on the valley floor at c.900 m to some 2,300 m on the escarpment crest. From here the land falls more gently away to the Loita Plains and the Masai Mara (IBA KE050). The vegetation changes from open Acacia tortilis woodland on the plain, to dense Acacia–Commiphora bush on the lower slopes, to Tarchonanthus thicket and grassland and, finally, submontane forest. Clear, fast-running, rocky streams flow down the escarpment, fringed on their lower reaches with tall riparian forest of figs Ficus spp. Beyond the escarpment crest, the rolling country is a mosaic of grassland, scrub and forest, with Podocarpus falcatus, P. latifolius and Diospyros abyssinica among the trees. Rainfall at the base of the eastern scarp is c.400 mm/year, rising to 750 mm on the forested ridges and peaks. Mist and dew can be heavy in the highest areas. Several Maasai group ranches communally own land on the escarpment and hills. One section of the escarpment has been leased to a private company for the development of luxury tourism.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 2 for key species. This is likely to be an important site for the threatened, restricted-range Prionops poliolophus, but although recorded here its status is uncertain. It is most likely to be found in Tarchonanthus thicket. The [near-?] threatened Parus fringillinus is probably resident in Acacia woodland, and Euplectes jacksoni nests in long grassland above the escarpment crest. Cisticola hunteri occurs at forest edges and in scrub on the escarpment crest. South Nguruman has very varied habitats and thus supports a diversity of bird species, from those characteristic of the Somali–Masai biome (27 of 94 Kenyan species), on the lower slopes, to Afrotropical Highlands biome species in the forest (30 of 70 species). South Nguruman is the only Kenyan site for Apalis alticola and one of the very few for Corvinella melanoleucus. Only parts of the site have been surveyed, and additional species will doubtless be added to the list. Regionally threatened species include Gypaetus barbatus (status uncertain, may be only an occasional visitor), Stephanoaetus coronatus (uncommon resident), Sarothrura affinis and Campephaga quiscalina (uncommon).

Non-bird biodiversity: The site holds substantial populations of large mammals, possibly including Diceros bicornis (CR) and Lycaon pictus (EN). There is little information on other fauna and flora.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Although it has no formal protection, South Nguruman remains a relatively wild and untouched part of Kenya, with large areas of natural habitats. Tsetse-fly infest much of the lower, bush-covered escarpment, and the Maasai people generally avoid the area for livestock grazing except in drought conditions. The local communities, with considerable success, have traditionally protected the highland forests on the escarpment crest. It is unclear how long this system can continue, as there have been controversial attempts to assert central Government control over this land. South Nguruman is an area of great scenic beauty and has good potential for ecotourism, although access is not easy. Several small-tented lodges have been built in a leased concession on the lower slopes of the escarpment, but the low-volume, luxury safari tourism that was planned has not yet begun. More information is needed on Nguruman’s birds, especially the threatened species, and the conservation status of their habitats: a thorough avifaunal survey is recommended.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: South Nguruman. Downloaded from on 29/11/2023.