Mount Elgon National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Mount Elgon extends along Uganda’s international border with Kenya, which effectively divides the mountain into two roughly equal parts. The mountain itself extends for about 80 km north–south and 50 km east–west. It is a solitary extinct volcano, with one of the largest craters in the world—8 km across—and it is the fourth-highest mountain in Africa. There are hot springs on the caldera floor.Mount Elgon National Park is located on the slopes of the mountain, contiguous with IBA KE059 in Kenya. Four broad classes of vegetation occupy different altitudinal zones of the mountain. The lowest is a community of mixed montane forest below c.2,500 m; a broad belt of bamboo and low-canopy montane forest occurs between c.2,400 and 3,000 m; a zone of high montane forest between 3,000 and 3,500 m; and there is a high moorland community above 3,500 m. In addition, there are a number of extensive grassland areas within the mixed montane forest and bamboo areas in the northern sector. Most of the mountain slopes were originally heavily forested, but land-use practices and the growing human population have had an impact on the area and most of the forest on the lower slopes has been lost to agriculture and settlement. The remaining forest is continuous, with an area of c.790 km² in the National Park in Uganda. With numerous streams, Mount Elgon represents an important water catchment area, serving around one million people to the north and west and providing water for the people of Mbale, Tororo and Kapchorwa Districts.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Mount Elgon’s forests are rich in birds, with a total of 300 species recorded. There are isolated records of one near-threatened species—Falco fasciinucha—the only confirmed records from Uganda, although recent searches failed to locate the species. Mount Elgon represents the western range-limit of some species or races that occur in the highlands of Kenya and northern Tanzania, such as Cisticola hunteri and Francolinus jacksoni, although the presence of Francolinus jacksoni needs confirmation (there is only one sight record). Notable among the species that are restricted to the Afrotropical Highlands biome, the park holds three that are not currently known from any other Ugandan IBA: Francolinus psilolaemus, Pogoniulus leucomystax and Cercomela sordida. Other notable highland species include Caprimulgus poliocephalus, Linurgus olivaceus and Cryptospiza salvadorii. There is an endemic race of Pogonocichla stellata. Francolinus jacksoni and Apalis pulchra are both forest-dependent species known only from Mount Elgon in the Ugandan part of their ranges. Species of the Guinea–Congo Forests biome are numerous, although most of them are well-represented at other Ugandan IBAs, especially in western Uganda. Also occurring are three species of the Lake Victoria Basin biome and seven of the Sudan–Guinea Savanna biome.

Non-bird biodiversity: Threatened mammals known from this site include Loxodonta africana (EN). The small-mammal fauna is rich, and includes a relict population of Rhabdomys pumilio (DD), only known in East Africa from Mount Elgon. The butterflies Metisella trisignatus and Imbrasia balayneshae are known in Uganda only from this forest.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Forest Department’s Natural Resource Inventory noted the absence of understorey bird species characteristic of undisturbed forest habitats, due to the presence of cattle and goats that roamed freely and browsed the understorey vegetation. This problem was only partly solved when the forest was gazetted as a National Park in 1992. The biggest threat to Mount Elgon National Park is the high human population densities adjacent to it, which have resulted in encroachment. This has now been largely stopped, but remains a serious threat. Before the transfer of its management to the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Forest Reserve had been extensively damaged by agricultural encroachment. There was widespread hunting activity and illegal pit-sawing. Multiple-use zones are now planned, as well as community involvement in conservation, but it is proving difficult to convince the local population of the value of the forest.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Mount Elgon National Park. Downloaded from on 20/04/2021.