Amboseli National Park
Ins and outs
Amboseli's biggest draw is its location, with Mount Kilimanjaro providing a stunning backdrop. The whole park is dominated by Africa's highest mountain and at dusk or dawn the cloud cover breaks to reveal the dazzling spectacle of this snow-capped mountain. The downside is that its popularity (it has long been one of the most visited parks in Kenya) and the decades of tourism have left well-worn trails, and much off-road driving has made the park look increasingly dusty and rather bleak. Efforts are being made to remedy this with new roads being built to improve access and a tough policy on off-road driving.
The main route into Amboseli is along the C103 from Namanga, on the Nairobi-Arusha (Tanzania) road. From Namanga to the park is 75 km down an appalling road and there are no petrol stations. The whole journey from Nairobi to Amboseli takes about four hours. There is a daily direct flight byBackground
Air Kenyafrom Wilson airport in Nairobi. Buses from the capital reach Namanga but there is no public transport from there to the park gates.
This park was first established as a natural reserve in 1948, and in 1961 all 3260 sq km of it were handed to the Masai elders of Kajiado District Council to run with an annual grant of £8500. After years of the destructive effects of cattle grazing and tourists on the area, 392 sq km of the reserve were designated as a national park in 1973, after which the Masai were no longer allowed to use the land for grazing. The late 1980s saw the start of an environmental conservation programme to halt erosion.Sights
Amboseli is in a semi-arid part of the country and is usually hot and dry. The land is a mixture of open plains, savannah scattered with areas of beautiful yellow-barked acacia woodland, swamps and marshland and clutches of thornbush growing amidst lava debris. To the west of the reserve close to Namanga is the massif of Oldoinyo Orok at 2524 m. The main wildlife you are likely to see here are herbivores such as buffalo, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, Coke's hartebeest, warthog, gnu, impala, giraffe, zebra and lots of baboons. One of the most spectacular sites is the large herd of elephants here. The elephant population of the greater Amboseli Basin at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro now numbers 1000 animals in over 50 matriarchal families and associated bull groups. The Amboseli elephants have perhaps the oldest and most intact social structure of any elephant population in Africa. They are also the best known and well studied. You may also be able to see the very rare black rhino that has nearly been poached out of existence. There are a few predators, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and jackals. Birdlife is also abundant especially near the swamps and seasonal lakes.
There have been environmental changes over recent years due to erratic rainfall. Lake Amboseli, which had almost totally dried up, reappeared during 1992-1993. The return of water to the lake flooded large parts of the park including the area around the lodges. Since then, flamingos have returned, and the whole park is far greener.Excursions
Selenkay Conservation Area, 17 km north of Amboseli National Park, has been established with local communities in mind. This 70-sq-km area has been developed in a joint venture with a Kenyan company,
Porini Ecotourism Ltd,
www.porini.com, and the Masai people. Porini, as well as meaning 'in the wilds' in Kiswahili is also an acronym for Protection Of Resources (Indigenous and Natural) for Income. Roads have been created using local labour and a camp has been constructed. Money raised from the entrance fees and rent are paid directly to the Masai. Profits are used to fund community projects such as schools and water supplies. Employment opportunities have also been provided for the local Masai people as game rangers, trackers and camp staff. Where once species migrating from Amboseli were killed or driven away by the local people, wildlife conservation is now encouraged. As a result of the establishment of the Conservation Area, wildlife numbers have recovered significantly in recent years and elephants are now seen frequently after an absence of nearly 20 years. The animals are truly wild and tend to behave more naturally than those in the parks, which are often habituated to the presence of vehicles.