TRAVEL: The drought in Amboseli persists
What you need to know:
- Giraffes appear, towering over the stunted scrub. By lunch time we’re checking into Kibo Safari Camp by Kimana gate on the edge of the park.
- It’s tents under makuti with beautiful mature tortilis trees and savannah grasses in the amazing Amboseli landscape.
A dry lake bed catches our eye near Iremeto Gate into Amboseli National Park, off Emali Road. On a whim, we decide to take a walk over the small hill to the dry pan that looks similar to the dry Lake Amboseli inside the park in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.
The parched earth is littered with stones of many kinds; volcanic tuff and obsidian glisten under the intense morning blue sky. There’s hardly a tree in leaf save for hardy ones like the thorny wait-a-bit acacia, elephant toothpicks (Sansevieria) and the commiphora. We startle a clutch of Helmeted guinea fowl, and they scamper through the scrub. We see a mound of dry elephant dropping as we clamber down the hill. It’s hard to imagine elephants so close to the main road.
We continue down the path. There’s more elephant dung along it. It’s dry though; this means the elephants traversed the route many months ago. They use this path to cross into the Chyulu Hills that stretch across the skyline and further beyond into Tsavo. The elephants use the swamps of Amboseli as a dry-season refuge when the larger Amboseli ecosystem is dry.
PARCHED, ANCIENT LAKE
This parched, ancient lake bed means that the drought is intense; the park over yonder must be full of elephants right now.
The pan is devoid of any vegetation – just like the dry lake bed inside the park. Bells tinkle and a herd of Maasai sheep and goats materialise from the plains, browsing on the remaining stalks of dry grass and bush, staying on the edge of the salt pan. In the intense heat, dust-devils rise and swirl, wavering on the plains like animated dancers. In the distance the hot air shimmers and mirages appear. And on the plains filled with thorns and dry scrub, we return to the car that now has a flat tyre.
With no shade, it’s hot work changing a flat but soon we’re on our way to the iconic park that’s famed for its elephants. It’s an interesting drive. A herd of gerenuk browse on the dry scrub by the side of the road, standing on their hind legs. This beautiful antelope with a long, giraffe-like neck is called swala twiga in Kiswahili (giraffe-necked antelope). It is the only antelope that browses standing on its hind legs to reach higher scrub.
Giraffes appear, towering over the stunted scrub. By lunch time we’re checking into Kibo Safari Camp by Kimana gate on the edge of the park. It’s tents under makuti with beautiful mature tortilis trees and savannah grasses in the amazing Amboseli landscape. Stepping out of the tented abode in the morn, Kilimanjaro’s Kibo dome in its entirety and the jagged jaw of the eroded Mawenzi are visible in the horizon.
We drive into the park. It’s dry. There has been no rain since February and now it’s late October. White ghostly dust-devils swirl upwards and the only green on the dust-swept plains are the few tortilis trees in leaf. It’s hard to imagine that in 2012, the same plains were lush green, filled with wild flowers in bloom and herds of elephants happily browsing away.
We follow the swamps and their green glades that break the monotone gold of the dry grasses. They are the proverbial garden of Eden with herds of zebra, white-bearded wildebeest, giraffes, buffalo and elephants. A line of wildebeest cross the water-filled glade and in the setting sun we watch the elephants. Two tuskers – a huge male and a youngster – battle it out, clashing their tusks, flapping their ears and raising their trunks. And then on the side, a tiny baby adds comic relief, running around without a care in the world.