Why Amboseli is bursting with colours of the wild

Pink hue at sunset. Greater flamingos bathed in sunset colours  in Amboseli. Photo | Jill Cohen

What you need to know:

  • In the last 50 years, an estimated 50 percent of Africa’s lions have disappeared.
  • Today, lions are increasingly seen in Amboseli compared to a few years ago when they were killed in retaliation for raiding livestock

The water on either side of the narrow murram road is pink, bustling with flamingos. They aren’t the only ones enjoying the ‘new’ lake that at most times is a vast expanse of dry earth. The ‘lake’ has gnus, zebras, buffalo, elephants and a bevy of waders – all in the presence of the mighty mountain, Kilimanjaro – enjoying the precious liquid thanks to the heavy rains in 2018 that flooded the park.

It’s late in the year and the 392-square-kilometre park, Amboseli continues to thrive. Flying in, the eagle’s eye-view of the larger 3,500-square-kilometre Amboseli that extends beyond the park is, in stark contrast, dry, save for the green filigree that vanish into a salient. In this amazing jigsaw of dry plains and lush swamps, Kilimanjaro stands regal from dawn to dusk for the two days we are there.

Masai women welcoming us  in Amboseli. Photo | Jill Cohen


Comical gnus and zebras wade through the water-filled pan that’s a veritable lake with water birds like the Goliath heron which is the world’s largest heron and a myriad of pelicans, egrets, ducks, geese, teals and more. Dainty African jacanas, also called the ‘Jesus Bird’ because they appear to walk on water delight us with their tiny chicks. 

The sun paints the colours of the water, reflecting shades of gold at sunrise to pink at sunset while the midday sun gives it a deep blue hue. Kilimanjaro reflects in the watery world, a double impression of the world’s tallest stand-alone mountain.

Deep in the swamps, the elephants graze on the lush grasses, tiny figures seen from above the ancient prehistoric Noomotio Hill that we hike to with Kilimanjaro standing stoic over it. At any one time there are no more than 700 elephants in the park and 1700 elephants in the larger ecosystem.

Following a family of some 30-plus elephants, we’re out in the community conservancy on the dry ‘lake’ that’s a pan of noxious salts where nothing grows. In the setting sun, I wonder if the beautiful matriarch leading her family is one of the 600 individuals who has been monitored since 1976 by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants founded by the eminent scientist, Dr Cynthia Moss in 1972. Amboseli’s elephants are the longest studied elephants in the wild, giving valuable insight into their lives and challenges they face in today’s world.

The Lions of Amboseli

In the first light of the following day, the sun scorches the dry plains juxtaposed against the lush swamps. It’s phenomenal to see this starkness in the land that the Maasai call ‘empusel’ meaning ‘salty, dusty place’ that is Amboseli. 

Lion crossing  in Amboseli. Photo | Jill Cohen

Swirl of the dust devils begin to rise with the heat, a dance of sand, space and sun. Suddenly our Maasai driver-guide nicknamed Junior goes ‘lions’.

Two tawny cats, the same colour of the earth, walk away from their kill, having hunted under the cover of darkness. It’s now the turn of the vultures to clean up the left-overs before the carcass begins to rot.

The lions are young males without the iconic manes and with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop they look magnificent, the king of the jungle.

Today, lions are increasingly seen in Amboseli compared to a few years ago when they were killed in retaliation for raiding livestock. Reading through the Lion Guardian’s (http://lionguardians.org/) website working in the Amboseli ecosystem since 2006, there’s an interesting study recently published about lion hunts during different phases of the moon at night. Beyond the park, lions (and other wildlife like elephants) disperse during the rains because the swamps and river are flowing again in the greater Amboseli-Tsavo enclave that is also home to the pastoral Maasai. 

Lions, according to the study, prefer to attack bomas (livestock enclosures) during dark nights when the light is scarce when they can jump into the bomas, have a meal, and escape without the livestock’s owner realising what’s going on. 

On the other hand, during full moon, lions stay away from bomas because they don’t want to be caught raiding. The smart cats instead target livestock lost in the bush.

Reading the website also reveals that in the last 50 years, an estimated 50 percent of Africa’s lions have disappeared. Studies like the one above help to understand the behaviour of wild animals to prevent such incidents from happening. To date, Lion Guardians has named some 400 lions, reinforced 300 bomas, and helped recover lost livestock and herders, including stopping lion hunts in revenge. 

In the late afternoon, we’re at Mzee Karate’s homestead bordering the park. The Maasai women in their beaded beauty welcome us with song and dance. Their daughters are at school, Tembea in Kajiado, supported by Beads for Education foundation. In a changing world, it is people like them who live with the last of Africa’s amazing wildlife, who are the true guardians of the wild spaces.

To Amboseli

Fly Safarilink – 45 minutes from Nairobi or a five-hour 240-km drive on A104 and C 103. Enjoy camping or glamping in one of the lodges. For more, contact me [email protected].

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