Geography and climate
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. (December 2015)
Image of the region between Lake Victoria
(on the right) and Lakes Albert
(from north to south) showing dense vegetation (bright green) and fires (red).
Some parts of East Africa have been renowned for their concentrations of wild animals, such as the "big five": the elephant, buffalo, lion, black rhinoceros, and leopard, though populations have been declining under increased stress in recent times, particularly those of the rhino and elephant.
The geography of East Africa is often stunning and scenic. Shaped by global plate tectonic forces that have created the East African Rift, East Africa is the site of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, the two tallest peaks in Africa. It also includes the world's second largest freshwater lake, Lake Victoria, and the world's second deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika.
The climate of East Africa is rather atypical of equatorial regions. Because of a combination of the region's generally high altitude and the rain shadow of the westerly monsoon winds created by the Rwenzori Mountains and Ethiopian Highlands, East Africa is surprisingly cool and dry for its latitude. In fact, on the coast of Somalia, many years can go by without any rain whatsoever. Elsewhere the annual rainfall generally increases towards the south and with altitude, being around 400 mm (16 in) at Mogadishu and 1,200 mm (47 in) at Mombasa on the coast, whilst inland it increases from around 130 mm (5 in) at Garoowe to over 1,100 mm (43 in) at Moshi near Kilimanjaro. Unusually, most of the rain falls in two distinct wet seasons, one centred on April and the other in October or November. This is usually attributed to the passage of the Intertropical Convergence Zone across the region in those months, but it may also be analogous to the autumn monsoon rains of parts of Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Brazilian Nordeste.
West of the Rwenzoris and Ethiopian highlands, the rainfall pattern is more typically tropical, with rain throughout the year near the equator and a single wet season in most of the Ethiopian Highlands from June to September – contracting to July and August around Asmara. Annual rainfall here ranges from over 1,600 mm (63 in) on the western slopes to around 1,250 mm (49 in) at Addis Ababa and 550 mm (22 in) at Asmara. In the high mountains rainfall can be over 2,500 mm (98 in).
Rainfall in East Africa is influenced by El Niño events, which tend to increase rainfall except in the northern and western parts of the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, where they produce drought and poor Nile floods. Temperatures in East Africa, except on the hot and generally humid coastal belt, are moderate, with maxima of around 25 °C (77 °F) and minima of 15 °C (59 °F) at an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft). At altitudes of above 2,500 metres (8,202 ft), frosts are common during the dry season and maxima typically about 21 °C (70 °F) or less.
The unique geography and apparent suitability for farming made East Africa a target for European exploration, exploitation and colonialization in the nineteenth century. Today, tourism is an important part of the economies of Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, and Uganda. The easternmost point of the continent, that is Ras Hafun in Somalia, is of archaeological, historical and economical importance.