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Beautiful views that make dusty park tick

By Jayne Rose Gacheri | August 29th 2021

Wild animals have right of way. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Travelling can spring surprises, allowing you to tick items off your bucket list or add others. During a recent visit to Tsavo West, a seasoned traveler I met advised me to add Tsavo East to my itinerary promising that the experience would be a “wonderful investment”, the original Tsavo National Park. I am happy I took the advice.

But I digress; on this trip I was headed to Amboseli, from Tsavo. The drive through a dusty Tsavo West-Tsavo East connection road passes through expansive dry landscapes tinted with mabati structures that are quickly replacing the manyattas. The area is now dotted with expansive green farmlands, thanks to plenty of water for irrigation.

After a one-and-a-half-hour drive, we get to the Emali-Loitokitok road, then shortly divert on to the dusty Amboseli road. Another 27-kilometre dusty drive brings us to Amboseli’s Kimana Gate.

Soon we come across five giraffes and two young ones running with three dogs and two boys after them.

Our driver Aziz, from Serena Amboseli Safari Lodge, stops the engine and gives a warning to the two in Maasai and they flee. 

Masai Giraffes at Amboseli. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

As we drive, I get the feeling that I stepped into a world that truly lived up to the fame that I had heard about Amboseli. I could not help but fall in love with the park’s ”wild” spaces, formerly part of the expansive Yatta Plateau.

I also notice that compared to Tsavo West, Amboseli is relatively flat while the latter is volcanic and dotted with springs and water holes.

Suddenly, we drive into an oasis in the middle of a what looks like a desert. Indigenous trees, shrubs are green and inviting. They have engulfed the manyatta architectural design of the lodge.

“To protect Amboseli National Park’s ecosystem and in keeping with the community’s culture and environment, Serena Amboseli Lodge has been constructed in conformity with the local Maasai manyattas,” explains Jonathan Moisari, the resident naturalist.

The vegetation surrounding the property, he adds, are the result of many years of tree planting activities.

Our first game drive is centred on an intro to animals, birds of Amboseli, and as we drive, I notice the interesting variety of habitats that includes dusty plains and marshy swamps.

But it is the backdrop of the snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro towering above the parks plains that captures my attention.

A rich habitat for wildlife and birds

Athough Amboseli is famous for its elephants, (more than 1,500, and home to Echo, perhaps the most researched elephant in the world and Tim the mighty leviathan remembered for his size and iconic tusks), Amboseli is also one of the best places in the world to get close to free-ranging mammals. 

Moisari tells me that Amboseli, which means salty dust, is also referred to as the “Land of the Giants”, which I learn is due to the elephants with massive tusks.

Elephant herd. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Apart from the elephants that make Amboseli popular, there are many plains animals, usually easy to spot. 

And spotting of the wildlife is easy because the vegetation is sparse due to the long, dry months. The wildlife wander through the savannah in search of food, water and shelter. 

Animals here, include the African bush elephant, Cape buffalo, impala, lion, cheetah, spotted hyena, Masai giraffe, Grant’s zebra and blue wildebeest. The park also hosts large and small birds.

During the game drives, I noticed the strict rules in place for the protection of wildlife at this small park. They include; never leave the vehicle, except at designated spots (reminded me of the Masai Mara drama where a visitor was caught on camera playing with a young cheetah), always keep to the tracks, no off-road driving and always give the animals the right of way.

My day two game drives were most exciting. Through Moisari’s help, I could now spot a hunting pair of lions, lone cubs that I thought were abandoned or orphaned, to which the guide explained that the mother had gone for hunting.

Cubs, he told me, most times die of hunger in less than a week if the mother cannot kill prey.

The highlight of day two was when I spotted a pair of two hunting cheetahs. I was hoping to get a National Geographic moment when the cheetahs made their go at prey, but sadly, the arrival of many vehicles with eager tourists scared them off.

I could also spot birds and with the help of the guide, identify the species.

Flamingos at Amboseli National Park. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

My best moment, however, was when I got to Observation Hill, the highest point and most visited place in the park. From here, the sweeping views of Mt Kilimanjaro, the plains and swamps are spectacular.

From here, I watched varied wildlife that included giraffes, zebras, gazelles, lions, Dik-dik, Lesser Kudu, the wild dogs, and flamingos, which the naturalist pointed out have been increasing over the years.

Encroaching on wildlife territory

Sadly, during a community visit, I noticed as we drove around a large number of settlements cropping up in very close proximity to the park’s boundaries.

Along with people come farms and livestock. “This threatens the healthy existence of the ecosystem as the livestock change the available pasture, degrade the habitat and spread zoonotic diseases,” explained Moisari.

There are also reports that the Standard Gauge railway whose 133km section goes through Tsavo, has further interfered with the natural setting of wildlife whose migration corridors were already hurt by the Nairobi-Mombasa road and the Lunatic Express that split Tsavo National Park into two.

The SGR has hampered the movement of wildlife in one of the greatest ecosystems in the world. 

As if reading my thoughts, Moisari gleefully tells me that he heard that Amboseli National Park is one of the closest protected areas from Nairobi. I can only hope that this stands the test of time.

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