What you need to know:
- The sun pops up and we go on an early morning game drive.
- A pride of lions is said to be basking by the Amboseli Elephant Research Centre founded by Cynthia Moss, who pioneered elephant research in Amboseli and founded Amboseli Trust for Elephants.
Twenty-two years ago I landed at Tortilis Camp bordering Amboseli National Park and I was enchanted. It’s a tiny camp built in a grove of thorn trees. It was one of the first eco-camps in community conservancies bordering national parks. Many have since followed.
Now I’m back in the grove of the tortilis trees, framed by the jaw-dropping snow-peaked Kilimanjaro, and it’s full moon over the mountain. In the stillness of the midnight moon with the occasional hoot of the owls and the crackle of the hyena, silent figures move through the thorn trees. It’s a family of elephants enjoying a midnight feast.
The sun pops up and we go on an early morning game drive. A pride of lions is said to be basking by the Amboseli Elephant Research Centre founded by Cynthia Moss, who pioneered elephant research in Amboseli and founded Amboseli Trust for Elephants.
We miss the lions but take heart when the senior warden of Amboseli National Park, the veteran Kenneth ole Nashuu, announces, “The lions are so many in the park due to high concentrations of wildlife inside the park during this dry spell.”
The drought has been hard on all. “There’s water in the swamps but no grass in the park,” explains ole Nashuu. The dynamics of Amboseli are fascinating, yo-yoing between the droughts and rains. The park is tiny – 390 square kilometres. Its survival depends on the surrounding Maasai communities, who have co-existed with wildlife based on their cattle-economy. Both wildlife and livestock need the wide grasslands for survival.
Dr David Western, who started his research in Amboseli in the 1960s, studied the relationship of pastoral communities and wildlife. He showed their inter-dependency, which proved that national parks cannot exist on their own as isolated islands, and that 75 per cent of wildlife exists outside the parks. It was the starting point for conservancies like Kitirua, the 30,000-acre wildlife corridor linking Amboseli and Tanzania essential for elephant migrations.
While the swamps have been fascinating, we reach the dry lake bed of Amboseli whose mirage fools the innocent… until the wind blows and the dust-devils rise. The lake bed shimmers like water, its soils so noxious that nothing grows on it.
We drive back to camp where a Lappet-faced vulture watches our entry from atop a tortilis tree. It’s a mighty raptor but now listed Endangered.
The sun is at its zenith and the camp welcome. We head to the upper deck with an open-walled lounge, bar and dining room to take in the panorama and enjoy some north Italian cuisine.
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