Kenya is home to an array of bio-geographical zones spread along altitudinal gradients from the coast to the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Kenya, reaching over 5000 m above sea level. Globally Kenya is classified among the ten mega-biodiverse nations, with over 35,000 species of flora and fauna. The country has a unique diversity of ecosystems, ranging from mountains, forests, rangelands, arid lands, croplands, and urban areas to marine and inland waters. There are some 467 inland lake and wetland habitats, covering about 2.5% of the country’s total area. Kenya’s rich biodiversity can be attributed to a number of factors, including a long evolutionary history, variable climatic conditions, and diverse habitat types and ecosystems .
About 42% of the country’s GDP is derived from natural resources, hence Kenya’s economy depends on the sustainable use and a healthy environment. Wildlife, and wildlife habitats are central to the tourism industry which attracts over one million tourists to Kenya every year. In 2017, tourism generated over 10% of the national GDP and directly employed nearly 11% of the total formal workforce . The country is especially famous for its diverse assemblage of large mammals including the African elephant, black rhino, leopard, buffalo and the African lion . According to Kenya’s 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (2020), Kenya is home to 4,623 plant species, 393 mammals, 260 reptile and amphibian species, 1,105 birds and 769 fish species .
However, the productivity and resilience of Kenya’s ecosystems, and the diversity and viability of biodiversity is being threatened across the country. Ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss has wide ranging impacts including, increased vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, declines in productivity (e.g., fisheries, agriculture, livestock, etc.), and precipitous declines in iconic species such as the elephant, rhino, giraffe, pangolin, and dugong. According to the 2017 IUCN list of threatened species, 463 plant and animal species in Kenya are threatened with extinction, including 30 mammals, 43 birds, 73 fish and 234 plants .
In addition, as a result of human population increase and habitat encroachment, wildlife dispersal areas in the country have shrunk, and others have been lost, resulting in fragmented areas. Connecting these habitat fragments is critical to allow the movement of wildlife and the flow of genes between populations for the survival of species. The National Wildlife Conservation Status Report, 2015-2017, indicated that nearly all the wildlife dispersal areas and migratory corridors in the Kenya rangelands have been interfered with by human activities. Some are highly threatened or have been completely blocked. For example, the collapse of wildlife populations in the Athi-Kaputiei area and subsequent curtailment of their movement from the Kajiado plains into Nairobi National Park has been attributed to high-density settlements, fences, and subdivision along the Kitengela-Namanga highway .
Kenya’s biodiversity is mainly in forests and wildlife parks and reserves . About 12.42% (72,890 km²) of Kenya’s land area is covered by terrestrial protected areas, and marine protected area coverage is about 0.76% (857 km²) . Despite efforts to improve the management and conservation of the country’s natural resources, a number of key challenges remain that pose a serious threat to the attainment of a clean and secure environment .
The biodiversity of Kenya is already under threat from a myriad of sources, including rapid population growth, ecosystem degradation, water scarcity, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, pollution, and infrastructure development , .
In Kenya, the population has grown from 47.6 million people in 2019 to an estimated 54.986 million people in 2021 , . This rapid increase in population has resulted in a decline in land availability, and increased settlement in arid and semi-arid regions, which in most cases are wildlife inhabited areas. Rapid population increase also comes with increasing demands on natural resources, including fuel resources (firewood and charcoal) and water resources .
The main threats that affect habitat connectivity in Kenya include incompatible land use in wildlife areas, such as expansion of crop cultivation along the rainfall gradient, high-density settlements, fences, mining and quarrying, woodland clearing, wetland drainage, high-density livestock presence, and poaching .
Poaching, overfishing and uncontrolled harvesting of plant and animal species threaten Kenya’s biodiversity. While biodiversity within the protected areas remains high, incidences of illegal extraction are common .
In addition, most threats will be exacerbated by climate change . Climate change is already increasingly contributing to biodiversity degradation on Kenya’s coast composed of fragile forest and grassland ecosystems which more frequently experience mild to severe drought .
Key policies and governance approach
Kenya has developed several national policies, legislation, regulations, and guidelines as legal instruments for governance in the conservation and management of the country’s biodiversity . These include, among several others, the National Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2030; National Wildlife Policy 2020, the Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2020; Wildlife Policy, 2012; Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013; Wetlands Conservation and Management Policy, 2015; Environment and Management Coordination Act, 1999; and the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 , .
Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2020 outlining the National Wildlife Policy aims to create an enabling environment for the conservation and sustainable management of wildlife for present and future generations. It will be achieved by promoting access to incentives and sustainable use of wildlife resources while ensuring equitable sharing of benefits; and promoting partnerships and incentives for wildlife-based enterprises and facilitating collaboration for effective governance and financing of the wildlife sector between communities, private conservancies, counties, and national Government. It also recognises the myriad of challenges wildlife conservation is facing outside protected areas .
In addition, the country has signed and ratified a number of biodiversity–related multi-lateral environmental agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) . Various measures are in place in Kenya which support the implementation of the CBD Strategic Plan. These include the Constitution of Kenya 2010; Vision 2030 and Medium-Term Plans II and III; the Environment, Water and Sanitation Sector Plan; strategies to implement SDGs in Kenya; policy on 10% Tree Cover Target; and the establishment of a Blue Economy (BE) sector . Kenya’s national efforts to implement the convention are also outlined in the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), which was developed in 2000 . Additionally, Kenya has developed a draft for the NBSAP 2019-2030, which is being updated based on the post-2020 biodiversity framework .
Although at present matters cuts across various agencies, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is responsible for the coordination and establishment of an appropriate legal and institutional framework for the management and conservation of biodiversity .
Successes and remaining challenges
Responsibility for biodiversity is spread across many institutions, ranging from national and county governments to private landowners, local communities, and NGOs. One of the largest challenges to biodiversity conservation in the country is the lack of a coherent integrated conservation policy that unifies dispersed and often conflicting legislation and policies in different sectors. One example being the introduction of Nile Perch into Lake Victoria in Kenya for commercial gains, which jeopardized one of the world’s richest centres of fish evolution , .
In addition, although sector specific strategies have been developed for mainstreaming biodiversity conservation, for example in the education sector, there is still a lack of biodiversity mainstreaming in other sectors .
Other institutional barriers and impediments include lack of technical expertise, planning and funding. Many of Kenya’s wildlife and forest reserves also lack the security and management capability to ensure protection. In addition, causes of biodiversity loss vary widely among species. For example, cultural attitudes about nature and species differ and have a strong bearing on the status of species and biodiversity in Kenya , .
Initiatives and Development Plans
A recent example of Kenya’s commitment to implementing the NBSAP is the BIODEV2030 initiative which aims to mainstream biodiversity into economic sectors which are key to biodiversity (BIO-) and development (-DEV). The goal of the initiative is to ‘bend the curve’ of biodiversity decline and to promote more sustainable and resilient economies. The project intends to promote ambitious commitments based on scientific assessments, and clarify clear accountability mechanisms that bring about change .
In addition, between 2015 and 2019, the Government of Kenya reserved 676,806.63 Ha of forests, to protect the country’s biodiversity. The largest forest block reserved is Boni Lungi Forest in Garissa and Lamu Counties with an area of 451,430 Ha. The Kenya Forest Service also entered into a concession with local NGOs to manage, conserve, protect and monitor the unique Kibwezi dry forest, so that it can continue to provide benefits through resource utilization and tourism to the surrounding communities .
Goals and Ambitions
A major ambition in Kenya is to increase the country’s forest cover to 10% which will provide improved habitat for Kenya’s land-based biodiversity .
- Optimize implementation of existing biodiversity-related policies and legislation.
- Update the NBSAP, for the period 2021-2030.
- Mainstream biodiversity conservation across sectors and at the county level.
- Undertake monitoring and evaluation and ensure resource mobilization for effective biodiversity conservation.
- There is an opportunity to create a biodiversity forum to improve coordination, communication, and information sharing. This will enable improved and effective implementation of the NBSAP and enhance efficient use of resources. This will ease monitoring and reporting.
- At national and county levels, there is need to link CBD reporting to the national frameworks and processes especially linked to the SDG reporting.
- A Biodiversity Budget and Expenditure Review is recommended to define the resources available, identify gaps and opportunities and enhance resource mobilization.
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 Jenkins RLM, Warren RF, Price JT (2021). Addressing risks to biodiversity arising from a changing climate: The need for ecosystem restoration in the Tana River Basin, Kenya. PLOS ONE 16(7): e0254879. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254879.
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 NEMA and UNDP (2009). Fourth National Report to the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
 Masumi S. Gudka, IUCN – BIODEV2030 (2020). Kenya National Biodiversity Threat Assessment.
 Kenya Forest Service (2019). Global Forest Goals: Format for reporting on progress towards the implementation of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017–2030, the United Nations forest instrument and voluntary national contributions.