Hyrax are able to cope with a more extreme climate and are found up to the highest vegetation.
The flora found on Mount Kenya varies with altitude, aspect and exposure. As the altitude increases, the plants have to be more specialised, with adaptations to strong sunlight with ultraviolet, lower mean temperatures and freezing night temperatures.
Plants in the Afro-alpine zone have overcome these difficulties in several ways. One adaptation is known as the giant rosette, which is exhibited by giant senecio, lobelia and giant thistle (Carduus), which use dead leaves to protect their buds from freezing. Giant rosette senecios form single-aged stand that drive community studture over decades.
Many plant species in the Afro-alpine zone of Mount Kenya are giant vesions of lowland relative. This may be an adaptation against the cold. However, nearer the nival zone the plants decrease in size again.
The majority of animals live lower down on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Here there is more vegetation and the climate is less extreme. Various species of monkeys, several antelopes, tree hyrax, porcupines and some larger animals such as elephant and buffalo all live in the forest. Predators found here include hyena and leopard, and occasionally lion.
There are fewer mammals found at high altitudes on Mount Kenya. The Mount Kenya hyrax and common duiker are able to live here, and are important to the ecosystem. Some smaller mammals, such as the groove-toothed rat, can live here by burrowing into the giant senecios and using their thick stem of dead leaves as insulation. The Mount Kenya mole-rat Tachyoryctes rex occurs at high altitudes, living in visible mounds. Leopards are resident in the alpine zone.
Other mammal species are only occasional visitors. Remains of elephants, monkeys and bongo have been found high in the alpine zone, and, and other sightings are remembered in names such as Simba Tarn (simba means lion in Swahili).
Several bird species live in the Afro-alpine zone, including sunbirds, alpine chats and starlings and the raptors auger buzzard, lammergeier and Verreaux eagle, the latter of which specializes in hunting hyraxes. Birds are important in this ecosystem as pollinators.