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Mount Kilimanjaro with its three volcanic cones, "Kibo", "Mawenzi", and "Shira", is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa, about 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) from its base to 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. The first people known to have reached the summit of the mountain were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination. The mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields.
Kilimanjaro is a large stratovolcano and is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, the highest; Mawenzi at 5,149 metres (16,893 ft); and Shira, the shortest at 4,005 metres (13,140 ft). Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo is dormant and could erupt again.
Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim. The Tanzania National Parks Authority, a Tanzanian governmental agency, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization list the height of Uhuru Peak as 5,895 m (19,341 ft). That height is based on a British Ordnance Survey in 1952. Since then, the height has been measured as 5,892 metres (19,331 ft) in 1999, 5,891 metres (19,327 ft) in 2008, and 5,888 metres (19,318 ft) in 2014.
There are seven official trekking routes by which to ascend and descend Mount Kilimanjaro: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe. Of all the routes, Machame is widely proclaimed as the most scenic, albeit steeper, route. This was true until the opening of Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes, which are equally scenic if not more. The Machame route can be done in six or seven days, Lemosho can be done in six to eight days, and the Northern Circuit routes can be done in seven or more days. The Rongai is the easiest and least scenic of all camping routes. The Marangu is also relatively easy, but this route tends to be very busy, the ascent and descent routes are the same, and accommodation is in shared huts with all other climbers.
Natural forests cover about 1,000 square kilometres (250,000 acres) on Kilimanjaro. In the foothill area maize, beans, and sunflowers (on the western side also wheat) are cultivated. Remnants of the former savanna vegetation with Acacia, Combretum, Terminalia and Grewia also occur. Between 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) and 1,800 metres (5,900 ft), coffee also appears as part of the "Chagga home gardens" agroforestry. Native vegetation at this altitude range (Strombosia, Newtonia, and Entandrophragma) is limited to inaccessible valleys and gorges and is completely different from vegetation at higher altitudes. On the southern slope montane forests first contain Ocotea usambarensis as well as ferns and epiphytes, farther up in cloud forests Podocarpus latifolius, Hagenia abyssinica and Erica excelsa grow as well as fog-dependent mosses. On the drier northern slopes olive, Croton-Calodendrum, Cassipourea, and Juniperus form forests in order of increasing altitude. Between 3,100 metres (10,200 ft) and 3,900 metres (12,800 ft) lie Erica bush and heathlands, followed by Helichrysum until 4,500 metres (14,800 ft). Neophytes have been observed, including Poa annua.
Large animals are rare on Kilimanjaro and are more frequent in the forests and lower parts of the mountain. Elephants and Cape buffaloes are among the animals that can be potentially hazardous to trekkers. Bushbucks, chameleons, dik-diks, duikers, mongooses, sunbirds, and warthogs have been reported as well. Zebras and hyenas have sporadically been observed on the Shira plateau.
Specific species associated with the mountain include the Kilimanjaro shrew and the chameleon Kinyongia tavetana.
Kibo's diminishing ice cap exists because Kilimanjaro is a little-dissected, massive mountain that rises above the snow line. The cap is divergent and outwards splits up into individual glaciers. The central portion of the ice cap is interrupted by the presence of the Kibo crater. The summit glaciers and ice fields do not display significant horizontal movements because their low thickness precludes major deformation.
Geological evidence shows five successive glacial episodes during the Quaternary period, namely First (500,000 BP), Second (greater than 360,000 years ago to 240,000 BP), Third (150,000 to 120,000 BP), Fourth (also known as "Main") (20,000 to 17,000 BP), and Little (16,000 to 14,000 BP). The Third may have been the most extensive, and the Little appears to be statistically indistinguishable from the Fourth.
A continuous ice cap covering approximately 400 square kilometres (150 sq mi) down to an elevation of 3,200 metres (10,500 ft) covered Kilimanjaro during the Last Glacial Maximum in the Pleistocene epoch (the Main glacial episode), extending across the summits of Kibo and Mawenzi. Because of the exceptionally prolonged dry conditions during the subsequent Younger Dryas stadial, the ice fields on Kilimanjaro may have become extinct 11,500 years BP. Ice cores taken from Kilimanjaro's Northern Ice Field (NIF) indicates that the glaciers there have a "basal age" of about 11,700 years, although an analysis of ice taken in 2011 from exposed vertical cliffs in the NIF supports an age extending only to 800 years BP.