Ever since I began writing about Kilimanjaro at the start of this millennium, I’ve been writing about the demise of the glaciers. Experts in such matters – in particular, Lonnie Thompson and his team from Ohio State University, Massachusetts – have largely been in agreement that the iconic ‘snows of Kilimanjaro’ were in fact melting faster than ever before; and the causes behind this disappearance were largely man-made. The topic then received worldwide publicity in Al Gore’s 2006 oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Now, however, there appears to be a growing number of people who believe that, actually, the glaciers are here to stay. An article in a recent edition of Tanzania’s Daily News is typical. In it, various local ‘experts’ are asked for their opinions on whether the glaciers are diminishing and whether, as Prof Thompson once predicted, they really will disappear altogether by 2020. Most of those in the article who give their opinion tend to disagree with Prof Thompson’s predictions, and indeed think that the glaciers are indeed here to stay!

So who do we believe?

Well, looking again at the article (http://www.eturbonews.com/44420/mount-kilimanjaro-glaciers-nowhere-near-extinction) and all the evidence over the last twenty years or so from Professor Thompson, I have to say I still side with the latter. For one thing, of the experts quoted in the article, the one with the most authority is perhaps Imani Kikoti, the ecologist at Kilimanjaro National Park. He is quoted as saying that “Much as we agree that the snow has declined over centuries, but we are comfortable that its total melt will not happen in the near future.”

But while I would love to be able to agree with Mr Kikoti, the fact is that the weight of evidence would suggest otherwise. Furthermore, as an employee of KINAPA it could be argued that he does have a vested interest in saying that the glaciers won’t melt; it reminds me a little of a former Minister for Tourism in Tanzania’s government a few years ago, who said exactly the same thing. Her argument seemed to come out of nowhere and contradicted all the scientific evidence that was been produced at the time – which could only lead one to conclude that she was merely saying this in order to ensure that tourists would still come to Tanzania to witness the African snows for themselves.

The other main expert the article cites is Victor Manyanga, a tour guide with
over a dozen years’ experience on Kilimanjaro, who says that (and apologies for the syntax – I’m just quoting verbatim from the article) “For naked eyes you cant tell if there’s any changes on the ice quantity from what we’ve seen ten years ago”.

In response, I am afraid that I just have to flatly disagree with this argument. Victor and I have been visiting and climbing Kilimanjaro for about the same length of time, and I have to say that recently the depletion of the glaciers has been markedly more evident than previously. The Furtwangler Glacier is little more than a small lump on the western side of the crater now, where before it was quite a formidable wall of ice, and everywhere you look on the summit the ice has clearly shrunk, retreated and melted considerably.