Crowned by the brooding presence of Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Amboseli National Parks is one of Kenya’s most popular safari parks.
Perhaps one of Africa’s postcard image is that of an elephant with a mountain on the background.
Beyond the image, however, lies the story of Africa in the 21st century and the human impact on the environment, global warming and cultural identity are part of what make up the Amboseli story.
What is the meaning of Amboseli?
The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Amboseli National Park is also a wildlife haven! The heartbeat of the park is the Amboseli Marsh, a life-giving feature that draws wildlife to its grass and water.
Zebra, Elephants and buffalo wallow and feed in the marsh while lions and other predators stalk the open plains – but there is another, more sinister aspect to the park.
After a masai mara safari, for the African safari visitors to Kenya, an amboseli safari is usually included as part of the itinerary. Also because of it close proximity to the Kenya coastal cities of Mombasa, Lamu and Malindi, tourists on a beach holiday will opt for an amboseli safari rather than a safari to masai mara. However, due to its much smaller size, the ravages of high impact tourism are greater.
Parts of the park now resemble a dustbowl – due to indiscriminate off-road driving by guides who wanting to get high-paying tourists the best views at sightings have disregarded the roads.
Recently however something is being done to lessen the damage as there are less off road drivers in the park.
Everything Is For Sale
A signboard in the grounds of the lodge we were staying at proclaimed five rules including the usual warnings against leaving the lodge grounds without a guide and informing of the danger posed by wild animals – but topping the list was an ominous warning regarding the Maasai.
It simply read: ‘Do not photograph the Maasai!’
I have always asked permission before photographing people or sensitive subjects but here was a place where the Maasai were everywhere – they were almost a part of the decor.
On the day of our arrival at the aforementioned lodge I was attempting to photograph the lodge interior but soon gave up when a ‘warrior’ insisted on moving into the frame each time I set up an image.
Apparently all I needed to do was ask his permission to photograph him and he would have agreed but for a fee.
It really struck me how certain ideals are silently creep into the proudest of African cultures because it has never been a big deal to take photos while on safari.
Global Warming and the Disappearing Ice Cap
Kilimanjaro is renowned for its ice cap – picture postcards have immortalized the image. Beyond the postcard image, however, is the reality of the dangers facing the earth today.
The ice cap has shrunk in the past decade, giving rise to calls that global warming is responsible. Other scientists claim that the melting of the ice cap is due to other factors such as deforestation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro whereby less moisture is produced to form the ice cap.
Whatever the reason for the melting, Amboseli is in a potential crisis as the park relies on the runoff from the mountain to feed the swamp, which in turn is a haven for the animals of the park.
The Amboseli Eco system
The Maasai once watered their cattle in the swamps of the present day Amboseli, but due to clashes between man and wildlife the park was gazetted a national park and the Maasai were moved onto the surrounding areas.
Boreholes were sunk in these areas to provide water for the Maasai and their cattle. Recently reports have surfaced of the Maasai tribesmen allowing safari operators to set up lodges on their land.
This could spell disaster for Amboseli as more safari vehicles mean more damage to this already over-utilised area and more human wildlife conflict.
Tim is an elephant and one of the continent’s largest tuskers who, along with a group of up to 12 other males, has developed a taste for the tomatoes and maize growing on local farms on the outskirts of the park.
The armed men are park rangers tasked with keeping him from the crops — and, in the process, saving his life.
The nocturnal “cat and elephant” game is just one example of a much bigger problem playing out across Africa’s savannah.
The 2013 Elephants in the Dust report on the crisis in the continent’s elephants estimates that 29 per cent of the animals’ known and possible range is heavily impacted by human development.
Amboseli is one of Africa’s most popular game parks – being scenically spectacular and game-rich – but it is also one of the most endangered wilderness areas due to human and climatic factors.
In danger from many sides, Amboseli needs more than common sense to prevail in ensuring its existence for the future.