Mount Moroto

UGATIPA15
Mount Moroto

Country: Uganda

Administrative region: Northern (Region)

Central co-ordinates: 34.78504 N, 2.53627 E

Area: 483km²

Qualifying IPA Criteria

A(i)Site contains one or more globally threatened species, B(ii)Site contains an exceptional number of species of high conservation importance

IPA assessment rationale

Mount Moroto qualifies as an IPA under subcriteria A(i), B(ii) and C(iii). Under A(i), there are five taxa globally threatened with extinction, three Endangered and two Vulnerable, while B(ii) is triggered by seven endemic or range restricted species, equivalent to over 4% of the national list of endemic or range restricted species. For two of these plant taxa, Senecio morotonensis and Trifolium masaiense subsp. morotoense, this site incorporates their entire global populations and so is of great conservation significance. Finally, C(iii) pertaining to a significant area of threatened habitat at the site, is triggered by the presence of Afromontane undifferentiated forest, a nationally Vulnerable habitat. This IPA has 13% of the national resource and is one of the five best sites nationally for this habitat.

Site description

Mount Moroto is a Central Forest Reserve (CFR) of 483 km2 located in the Moroto District, northeast Uganda. The site follows the Kenya – Uganda border for around 30 km at its eastern boundary, while Moroto Town is situated at the western foot of the mountain. The mountain itself is a Miocene volcanic mass arising from the Eastern Rift escarpment and reaching a peak of 3083 m in altitude (Howard 1991, Nanyunja 2003). Indigenous Tepeth communities live on the mountain and are dependent upon the ecosystem services it provides (Nanyunja 2003).

Botanical significance

Mount Moroto is a globally significant site for plant conservation, hosting many rare plant taxa. Two of these, Senecio morotonensis and Trifolium masaiense subsp. morotoense are endemic to this IPA. Neither are thought to be at risk of extinction currently, as they occur at higher altitudes where human activities are minimal. However, as the only site globally for these taxa, it is important that future activities within the CFR do not put these unique populations at risk.
Several other species known from this IPA are range restricted. Two herbaceous species, Drimia congesta and Trifolium lugardii, are known only from this site and Mount Elgon. Both are globally Endangered, occurring on the lower slopes of Mount Elgon where they are threatened by habitat degradation (Phillips et al., In Press., Amani et al. 2022). Others are similarly limited to a few sites in northeastern Uganda and in adjacent sites beyond the country’s borders. Aloe wilsonii (VU) and Aloe cheranganiensis (LC), for instance, are only known from a small number of sites either side of the Kenya – Uganda border north of Mount Elgon, while Justicia afromontana (LC) and Bothriocline monticola (EN) are each limited to this same stretch of border in addition to the Imatong Mountains in South Sudan.
This site is notable for its diversity of Aloe species, with five species present. Alongside the aforementioned two, Aloe tweedieae (LC), A. wollastonii and A. wrefordii (LC) are known from Mount Moroto, with the lattermost described as “one of the least common of Uganda’s aloes” (Cole & Forrest 2017), known only from this site nationally. Collected on the lower slopes of this mountain, there are two populations of A. wrefordii at this site, one 19 km southeast of Moroto town and another growing near Rupa on the northern boundary of this IPA. It is notable that, despite being previously assessed as Least Concern, both of these sites appear very close to mining activities. Quarries were opened near the southeasterly population as recently as 2023 (Google Earth 2023). Reassessment of this species may well find it to be Endangered, given this significant threat and the species’ limited range, extending only from Mount Moroto to the contested Ilemi Triangle area.
While several of the Aloe species have benefited from more recent surveying, particularly related to “Aloes of Uganda: A Field guide” (Cole & Forrest 2017), the flora of Mount Moroto is otherwise understudied, with several species most recently collected in the 1960s. There have been some subsequent surveys, notably the Biodiversity report for Moroto, Napak and Kadam (Lwanga 1996), but this report focused primarily on shrubs and trees, while the plants of conservation significance within this IPA are primarily herbaceous. Further surveys would be beneficial, to further understanding of these species and provide more up to date information for conservation, while such surveys may also reveal additional plants of conservation importance.
In addition to species of conservation importance, Mount Moroto is one of the best sites in Uganda for nationally Vulnerable habitat Afromontane undifferentiated forest. Representing around 13% of the national resource of this habitat type, this IPA triggers criterion C(iii) for hosting significant areas of this threatened habitat.

Habitat and geology

Moroto experiences one rainy season from April to December, with annual rainfall of only 887 mm (Nanyunja 2003, Kamukasa Adonia 2015). With highly limited rainfall, the montane forests are likely dependent on mists to supply moisture. Much of the site is dominated by Afromontane undifferentiated forest, a nationally threatened, drier montane forest type which on Mount Moroto characterised by valuable timber trees Podocarpus milanjianus, Afrocarpus (Podocarpus) gracilior, and Juniperus procera (Langdale-Brown et al. 1964; Lwanga 1996; Katende & Lye #410). This habitat is dominant at altitudes above ca. 2000 m, although extends below this in some sheltered ravines. At the highest peaks of the mountain, habitat transitions to open grassland, providing important habitat for species such as Endangered Bothriocline monticola and Trifolium lugardii and the Moroto endemic Senecio morotonensis.

Below the forests are areas of savanna where species such as Acacia (Vachellia) hockii and Combretum molle are noted to be dominant (Lwanga 1996). Langdale-Brown et al. (1964) show a transition of this savanna into Acacia-Comiphora bushland at lower altitudes in the west of the CFR. The steeper eastern cliffs, with exposed and rocky ground cover, likely provides good habitat range-restricted Aloe cheranganiensis alongside other succulents.

Significant areas of the reserve, particularly at lower altitudes in the north and south, have been transformed by farming of crops.

Conservation issues

Mount Moroto was designated as a Central Forest Reserve in 1948. The site has been identified as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), due to the presence of Aloe wrefordii, a geographically restricted species under KBA criteria (Plumptre et al. 2019). Mount Moroto is also an Important Bird Area, with bird communities showing a greater affinity to northwestern Kenya than the avifauna elsewhere in Uganda; several bird species from Mount Moroto are not known from any other protected area or IBA in Uganda (BirdLife International 2023).
The site is very significant to Tepeth communities, many of which settled at high altitudes, up to 2000 m, to avoid interethnic conflicts in the area (Kamukasa Adonia 2015, Google Earth 2023). While the 1990s saw the eviction of communities from CFRs across Uganda, there was resistance to this at Mount Moroto. However, there has traditionally been a culture of sustainability within Tepeth communities, for example, significant plants associated with ecosystem services such as food provision, medicines, climate regulation and spiritual importance were traditionally not cut without consultation of beneficiaries in the community (Nanyunja 2003). Such traditions may well have limited the impact of these communities on the reserve.
However, a decrease in Aloe spp. abundance has been noted over recent decades, with plants frequently used by Tepeth communities for medicinal purposes (Nanyunja 2003). Further research is needed to establish which species are being used and for which ailments, to establish whether rare and threatened species are negatively impacted and to what extent more common Aloe species could be used instead.
Commercialization of forest resources, mining and a push by government to abandon nomadic pastoralism in favour of arable farming across Karamoja are thought to have increased pressure on the habitats of Mount Moroto CFR (The New Humanitarian 2014, Kamukasa Adonia 2015). It has been suggested that the latter initiative, the Karamoja Action Plan for Food Security (2009-2014), led directly to the establishment of crop farming within the CFR (Kamukasa Adonia 2015). Farming has led to increased, uncontrolled burning for land clearance and has also come into direct conflict with cattle grazing, forcing pastoralists to higher altitudes (Kamukasa Adonia 2015). In addition, harvesting of timber for construction is common, while charcoal burning largely targets Acacia spp. and is primarily sold to people in Moroto town and elsewhere (Kamukasa Adonia 2015). Other key issues are that there has been a lack of regulation of activities by the NFA, on-the-ground monitoring is scarce and licenses to allow for legal access of forest resources, particularly timber, have not been issued (Kamukasa Adonia 2015).
In addition to this, the NFA had advertised a bid notice to harvest pine and eucalyptus trees from a 50 hectare plot planted by the British in 1940s, known as Elipas forest, on the upper slopes of Mount Moroto (Eninu 2017a). Local resistance, due to the forest’s importance for livelihoods and spiritual importance to Tepeth communities, led to the abandonment of these plans in 2017. However, the NFA has suggested that it may reattempt harvesting of this plot at a later date with a focus on community engagement and tree planting in the meantime to assuage community objections (Eninu 2017b). While these trees do not form part of the natural forest community, logging may well cause disturbance to primary vegetation, through access creation and if unregulated felling encroaches on natural stands, and the loss of Elipas may well increase pressure on forest resources elsewhere in the CFR.
Mining is also a major threat to the site. There has been great interest in marble extraction, the latter linked with supplying cement factories in Tororo (New Vision 2019). Much of these mining activities are artisanal and, as such, are not preceded by Environment Impact Assessments with no obligation to restore abandoned mining sites (Kamukasa Adonia 2015, New Vision 2019). Satellite imagery suggests that new mining sites have been established as recently as 2023 (Google Earth 2023) and may well pose a threat to rare species at this site (see “Botanical Significance”).
However, there have been some conservation successes at the site. Since June 2022, it has been one of the focal sites for conservation efforts by the Kara-Tunga Foundation (KTF), a not-for-profit organisation linked with the Kara-Tunga tour operator (World Land Trust 2023). A 1,500 ha area within the CFR will be managed by KTF for reforestation, ecotourism and other conservation activities. A further core conservation zone of 5 ha on the reserve boundary has been bought by KTF, with 3 ha of this hosting ecotourism activities and acting as a hub for coordinating agroforestry and conservation efforts, such as tree planting, that will be undertaken in a 2,500 ha community-owned buffer zone surrounding this core zone (World Land Trust 2023).

Ecosystem services

Mount Moroto plays an important role in watershed regulation, particularly providing water catchment for the River Lia, the main water source for Moroto town. However, the preference for farming riverine areas puts these watercourses at risk through erosion and siltation (Kamukasa Adonia 2015).
The site is very significant to Tepeth communities, many of whom settled on the mountain to avoid interethnic conflicts in the area that continue to threaten communities to the present day (Kisembo 2014). The Tapac sub-county, located in the south of the CFR is home to a large Tepeth community, and the mountain is one of the only remaining places where the “Endangered” Soo language, and the only place the Tepes dialect of this language, is spoken (Kisembo 2014, Beer 2015). The IPA therefore has significant cultural importance for Tepeth communities. In a survey of over 100 Tepeth residents, 96% stated that they use forest products as a means of providing their livelihoods. As well as shelter from conflict, the forest provides protection for their cattle, which are at risk from cattle raids, alongside resources such as wild foraged food, through fruits, bushmeat and honey, medicines and fuel (Kamukasa Adonia 2015). For some individuals from the Tepeth community, the forests have spiritual significance to them through an association with deceased ancestors and they believe they should be protected as a result (Kamukasa Adonia 2015).
There is a small tourist industry associated with the mountain, particularly those wishing to climb Mount Moroto (New Vision 2019).

Site assessor(s)

IPA criterion A species

Species Qualifying sub-criterion ≥ 1% of global population ≥ 5% of national population 1 of 5 best sites nationally Entire global population Socio-economically important Abundance at site
Drimia congesta Bullock A(i) True True True False False Unknown
Aloe wilsonii Reynolds A(i) True True True False False Unknown
Bothriocline monticola (M.Taylor) Wech. A(i) True True True False False Unknown
Trifolium lugardii Bullock A(i) True True True False False Unknown
Ansellia africana Lindl. A(i) False False True False False Unknown

Drimia congesta Bullock

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

Aloe wilsonii Reynolds

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

Bothriocline monticola (M.Taylor) Wech.

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

Trifolium lugardii Bullock

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
True
≥ 5% of national population:
True
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

Ansellia africana Lindl.

Qualifying sub-criterion:
A(i)
≥ 1% of global population:
False
≥ 5% of national population:
False
1 of 5 best sites nationally:
True
Entire global population:
False
Socio-economically important:
False
Abundance at site:
Unknown

IPA criterion C qualifying habitats

Habitat Qualifying sub-criterion ≥ 5% of national resource ≥ 10% of national resource 1 of 5 best sites nationally Areal coverage at site
Afromontane dry forest (VU) C(iii) True True True 30.8

Afromontane dry forest (VU)

Qualifying sub-criterion:
C(iii)
≥ 5% of national resource:
True
≥ 10% of national resource:
True
Areal coverage at site:
30.8

General site habitats

General site habitat Percent coverage Importance
Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane Forest No value Major
Savanna - Dry Savanna No value Major
Rocky Areas - Rocky Areas [e.g. inland cliffs, mountain peaks] No value Minor
Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude Grassland No value Minor

Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane Forest

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Savanna - Dry Savanna

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Rocky Areas - Rocky Areas [e.g. inland cliffs, mountain peaks]

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude Grassland

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Land use types

Land use type Percent coverage Importance
Nature conservation No value Major
Agriculture (arable) No value Major
Agriculture (pastoral) No value Unknown
Tourism / Recreation No value Minor
Extractive industry No value Minor
Residential / urban development No value Minor

Nature conservation

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Agriculture (arable)

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Major

Agriculture (pastoral)

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Unknown

Tourism / Recreation

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Extractive industry

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Residential / urban development

Percent coverage:
No value
Importance:
Minor

Threats

Threat Severity Timing
Biological resource use - Logging & wood harvesting Medium Ongoing - stable
Biological resource use - Gathering terrestrial plants Low Ongoing - stable
Residential & commercial development - Housing & urban areas Medium Ongoing - increasing
Agriculture & aquaculture - Annual & perennial non-timber crops - Small-holder farming High Ongoing - increasing
Energy production & mining - Mining & quarrying Medium Ongoing - increasing
Transportation & service corridors - Roads & railroads Medium Ongoing - increasing
Natural system modifications - Fire & fire suppression - Increase in fire frequency/intensity High Ongoing - increasing
Agriculture & aquaculture - Wood & pulp plantations - Agro-industry plantations Medium Future - planned activity
Agriculture & aquaculture - Livestock farming & ranching - Nomadic grazing Unknown Ongoing - trend unknown

Biological resource use - Logging & wood harvesting

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Ongoing - stable

Biological resource use - Gathering terrestrial plants

Severity:
Low
Timing:
Ongoing - stable

Residential & commercial development - Housing & urban areas

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Agriculture & aquaculture - Annual & perennial non-timber crops - Small-holder farming

Severity:
High
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Energy production & mining - Mining & quarrying

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Transportation & service corridors - Roads & railroads

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Natural system modifications - Fire & fire suppression - Increase in fire frequency/intensity

Severity:
High
Timing:
Ongoing - increasing

Agriculture & aquaculture - Wood & pulp plantations - Agro-industry plantations

Severity:
Medium
Timing:
Future - planned activity

Agriculture & aquaculture - Livestock farming & ranching - Nomadic grazing

Severity:
Unknown
Timing:
Ongoing - trend unknown

Protected areas

Protected area name Protected area type Relationship with IPA Areal overlap
Mount Moroto Central Forest Reserve Forest Reserve (conservation) protected/conservation area matches IPA 483

Mount Moroto Central Forest Reserve

Protected area type:
Forest Reserve (conservation)
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
483

Conservation designation

Designation name Protected area Relationship with IPA Areal overlap
Mount Moroto Forest Reserve Key Biodiversity Area protected/conservation area matches IPA 483
Mount Moroto Forest Reserve Important Bird Area protected/conservation area matches IPA 483

Mount Moroto Forest Reserve

Protected area:
Key Biodiversity Area
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
483

Mount Moroto Forest Reserve

Protected area:
Important Bird Area
Relationship with IPA:
protected/conservation area matches IPA
Areal overlap:
483

Management type

Management type Description Year started Year finished
No management plan in place No value No value

No management plan in place

Year started:
No value
Year finished:
No value

Bibliography

Howard, P. C., 1991

Nature Conservation in Uganda’s Tropical Forest Reserves

Plumptre, A. J., Ayebare, S., Behangana, M., Forrest, T. G., Hatanga, P., Kabuye, C., Kirunda, B., Kityo, R., Mugabe, H., Namaganda, M., Nampindo, S., Nangendo, G., Nkuutu, D. N., Pomeroy, D., Tushabe, H. & Prinsloo, S., 2019

Conservation of vertebrates and plants in Uganda: Identifying Key Biodiversity Areas and other sites of national importance

Conservation Science and Practice, Vol 1, page(s) 1-12 Available online

Langdale-Brown, I., Osmaston, H. A., & Wilson, J. G., 1964

The Vegetation of Uganda and its Bearing on Land-Use

Google Earth, 2023

Google Earth Pro 2023

BirdLife International, 2023

Important Bird Area factsheet: Mount Moroto Forest Reserve

Available online

Cole, T., & Forrest, T., 2017

Aloes of Uganda: A field guide

Eninu, E., 2017a

Moroto District Halts Harvesting of Trees from Elipas Forest

Available online

Eninu, E., 2017b

NFA Abandons Plans to Harvest Moroto Forest. Uganda Radio Network

Available online

Kamukasa Adonia, B., 2015

Assessment of the threats to conservation of Mt. Moroto Central Forest Reserve and their effects on the livelihoods of Tepeth people in Moroto District, Uganda

International Journal of Current Research, Vol 7, page(s) 14734–14740 Available online

Kisembo, D.,

Tepeth: besieged, Forgotten

Daily Monitor Available online

Lwanga, J., 1996

Moroto, Kadam and Napak Forest Reserves Biodiversity Report: Trees and Shrubs

Nanyunja, R. K., 2003

Indigenous Knowledge of the Abundance of Medicinal and Food Plants in Mount Moroto Forest Reserve

World Forestry Congress Available online

New Vision, 2019

Moroto Residents’ Cash in on Marble Stones

Available online

Phillips, C., Kalema, J., Ojelel, S. & Richards, S., In press

Trifolium lugardii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The New Humanitarian, 2014

Questions over Karamoja food security plan - Uganda

Available online

World Land Trust, 2023

Kara-Tunga Foundation (KTF)

Available online

Recommended citation

(2024) Tropical Important Plant Areas Explorer: Mount Moroto (Uganda). https://tipas.kew.org/site/mount-moroto/ (Accessed on 21/05/2024)