New book documents East Africa’s geological highlights

The cover of Roger N. Scoon’s new book

The cover of Roger N. Scoon’s new book.

Photo credit: Pool

As happened a few months ago with the release of Dino Martin’s book on grasses, my father, John, received another review request from Struik Nature publishers. This time, it was Dr Roger Scoon’s Geological Highlights of East Africa’s National Parks.

Incidentally, last year, a geologist friend asked me if I had any images of Meru National Park, as Dr Scoon needed some for an upcoming book. Digging through old hard-drives, I found a few photos from a family trip in 2008 of Elsa’s Kopje, the large rocky outcrop on which the lodge of the same name resides. Turns out that what seemed like a throwaway image of a hill was useful after all!

On safari, geology is not often a line of questioning that comes to my guests’ minds. However, it is something that I often find myself weaving into the narrative, even if at an extremely basic level. After all, almost everything we encounter on safari can be linked back to the geology of an area to some degree.

The texture, salinity, acidity (or alkalinity), permeability and, therefore, potential fertility of any soil is directly linked to the weathering of underlying rocks. Coupled with precipitation, that will then determine what kind of plants grow there, which influences the herbivores that feed on them and therefore their predators.

More user-friendly

Until now, geological resources have been difficult to access in Kenya. They’re usually too academic and intimidating for a non-specialist. Thankfully, this book is far more user-friendly and can easily be carried on adventures.

It features a thorough introduction to the geological history of East Africa, from the formation of basement rocks over two billion years ago to the more recent turmoil as a result of the East African Rift System (EARS). These first chapters are accompanied by great illustrations and diagrams, and make for a detailed, yet approachable overview.

The rest of the book accounts over 70 national parks, reserves and interesting “geo-sites”. Each one features an introduction on landforms and climate and then a more detailed geological overview. Numerous photographs and maps complement them.

Seventy national parks

I’ve had the book for over a month now and wanted to take it into the field to review it properly. I’ve managed to take it to Kijabe Hill, Nairobi National Park, the Aberdares and most recently, Tsavo East.

While there is not enough space in the book to go into comprehensive accounts for each location, I’ve found the information on the places I have visited interesting and useful. The first time I used it, I was looking at Mount Longonot from the top of Kijabe Hill, while friends of mine launched themselves off the edge strapped to paragliding wings. The day was hazy, but the Gregory Rift lay before me and being able to correspond the maps in the book to the various volcanoes, Eburru escarpment and Lake Naivasha below was exactly what this book was designed for. Did you know that Longonot is technically considered active and last erupted in 1860?

Nairobi National Park and the Aberdares both share geological history with Longonot, in that their landscapes are as a result of the EARS. However, most of Tsavo East is far older. While the imposing Yatta Plateau is also the result of EARS volcanism that happened over 13 million years ago, the majority of Tsavo’s rocks are metamorphic.

It’s difficult to comprehend that sitting on one of the many red rocky outcrops, such as Mudanda, or peering into the marble caves east of Ithumba, we’re interacting with features that were formed over half a billion years ago, long before life existed on land.

As with all Struik Nature publications on East Africa, the book will be available at all leading bookstores and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a new perspective on the region’s natural history.


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