Where elephants roam

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Amboseli Park gate

Amboseli National Park is a very special place on earth. It means “the place of water” in the Maasai tongue and indeed while the surrounding area is all red dust and acacia bushland the park stretches across vast, verdant swamps. They are fed underground by the runoff and snow melt from Amboseli’s imposing neighbor right across the Tanzanian border: majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. The view of the highest peak in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world is in and of itself unforgettable reward for coming here. I am not much of a mountain climber but I have always dreamed of seeing Kilimanjaro. Ever since I read about this faraway and exotic land in children’s books, my distant dreams of Africa became morphed into this one iconic image: a snow-covered peak rising high above the savanna. You get the image, right? Now add to it elephants.

And I mean scores of them – whole herds roaming lazily across the grassland. From a distance they look like small dark spots on the vast blue and green canvas. But squint your eyes, get closer… Let’s just say that for an elephant lover like me Amboseli is pretty much as close to heaven as it gets.

Do you see the elephants? Kilimanjaro peaks through the clouds in the background.

Getting closer to the herd

Elephant lover’s heaven

Joseph Thomson, the first European who entered this area in 1883, famously asked, “How can such numbers of wild animals exist in such enormous herds?” Every visitor since has been asking the same question. Amboseli is reputed to be the best place in the world to see elephants and I definitely agree. I saw elephants in the wild before, but never SO many, so close, and in such a stunning natural setting. At one point a herd of something like a hundred animals crossed right in front of our jeep, totally oblivious to me standing with my mouth ajar and frantically snapping photos. Like these:

I see you, humans…

…but I have better things do to – like hanging out with giraffes

Aww, baby elephant! So cute!

Although not the best place for checking off a list of the Big Five, given that the elephants (plus Mt. Kili) are the number one reason to visit, Amboseli is full of other wildlife. Declared a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve it is home to giraffes, cape buffalos, impalas, zebras, lions and more. These are some of my most memorable encounters:

Did someone say giraffes?

Welcome to the zebra land!

Zebras and buffalos get along

So do elephants and hippos, half-submerged in the swamp – and those white birds

Impalas and zebras

Beyond animal spotting, Amboseli is also a great place to meet the Maasai tribe and visit a Maasai village. The Maasai lead pastoral lifestyle raising livestock and crops – but I’m guessing they earn most of their income from posing for pictures with tourists. I’m not really into that but still got a glance of the local life from a distance.

Maasai and his herd

Maasai gathering

Farewell to the Maasai – and Amboseli

The trip to Amboseli was a childhood dream come true for me. Mount Kilimanjaro and the elephants – a perfect combo I felt I could never tire of. This short visit only fueled my long-term elephant obsession. As renowned Amboseli elephant researcher Cynthia Moss put it,

“Elephants are very special animals: intelligent, complicated, intense, tender, powerful, and funny. (…) I have always said that watching elephants is like reading and engrossing, convoluted novel that I cannot put down but I also do not want to end.”

Read on:

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  1. Pingback: A different look at Mombasa « Sandstone and amber

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