What to See: Wildebeest Migration, The Big Five: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffallo, Wildebeest
Amboseli National Park isn’t the largest park in Kenya’s National Park system, but within its boundaries one finds the wide variety of East African wildlife. And of course, Amboseli hosts the iconic safari image – elephants roaming the grassland plain with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, the great mountain looming up out of the southeastern horizon almost 20,000 feet above the plain. Maasai villages and ranches surround the borders of the park (the area was once part of their range), and the Maasai have given Amboseli its name, which means “place of water.”
The Amboseli National park is famous for its elephants, which are plentiful and ubiquitous from plain to marsh. In fact, there is some evidence that the elephants have become too plentiful at Amboseli; the trees that support them are disappearing, perhaps as a result of over-grazing. The Kenya Wildlife Service, which was charged with eradicating elephant poaching in the 1980s, has now turned its attention to devising ways to protect the habitat of the creatures they protected so well. In addition to the Big five and scores of other mammals, about 600 different species of bird live here.
The five habitats that occur here are open plains, acacia woodland, thornbush country littered with rocks, swamps and marshland. Most of the park lies across a pleistocene lake basin, now dry. In very wet weather, a temporary lake, Lake Amboseli, floods and restricts access to this part of the park. The climate is mainly hot and dry and most of the park falls in the rainshadow of Mt Kilimanjaro.
The animals in the park are famous, especially the free ranging elephant families. There are large herds of buffalo and elephant that wallow in the swamps and are often seen in the palm forests. Zebra, wildebeest and hippo graze on the plains, whilst in the acacia woodland the uncommon fringe-eared oryx and gerenuk are found, and the spectacled elephant shrew.
The large Maasai community in the area means that traditional dances are frequently organised for visitors to observe and learn about the cultures and lectures are also available to learn even more about it. For the more traditional safari experience, bush barbecues, game drives and bird walks are offered, and these are an enjoyable way to spend your time here.
Interacting with the elephants is a big part of the experience in Amboseli and there are many film documentaries telling the stories of these graceful large creatures. The road network is very good although because of the nature of the ashy, volcanic structure of the soil, the park is incredibly dusty in dry season.
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