Amboseli National Park
Amboseli National Park is famous for its elephants. However, although the most familiar African picture is of elephants here—trumpeting, in a herd, with families, with babies—against a backdrop of snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro, that tallest free-standing mountain in the world is not located in Amboseli or even in Kenya. It is in neighboring Tanzania.
But the best view of it is here and its overwhelming presence is a constant. Lions, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalo, impalas, gazelles—most of Amboseli’s animals—can be observed in front of this stunning peak which holds one-fifth of Africa’s ice, now melting.
Amboseli is affected not only visually but environmentally by Kilimanjaro. Its ancient eruption laid down the light volcanic dust which makes up the mineral-rich topsoil (Amboseli comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”). The moisture which seeps from its higher elevations and makes its way underground to a series of springs here furnishes the only permanent water source in an area which at first glance appears to be an arid dust bowl. The springs are focus for some 95 percent of the region’s wildlife. (“How can such enormous numbers of large game live in this extraordinary desert?” the explorer Joseph Thomson asked a century ago.)
When Lake Amboseli, a salt pan, is entirely dry—which is most of the year—spring-fed swamps such as Enkongo Narok in the park’s center, bordered by yellow-barked fever trees, are brightly green, providing not only water for drinking and bathing but moistening nearby grasslands and acacia woodlands as well.
Buffalo luxuriate in its muck. Cattle egrets trail them, snapping up insects flushed by their activities. Hippos grunt in deeper pools.
Zebras and wildebeest wade knee-deep in the Logenya Swamp east of Ol Tukai.
Birds find it welcoming too. Madagascar squacco herons stalk in the reeds, among over 420 bird species recorded here. On floating vegetation are long-toed lapwings with carmine bills,distinctive plovers with the habits of lily-trotters. Gregarious Tavetagolden weavers, rare elsewhere, are locally common.
Bat-eared foxes bask outside dens on the open plains. Black-backed jackals are almost everywhere, as are black-faced vervet monkeys and yellow baboons.
Handsome fringe-eared oryx can subsist in dry parts where most others can’t, digesting tough dry forage. Graceful gerenuks almost never drink, getting moisture from tree leaves which they eat while standing erect on their hind legs (their name in Somali means “giraffe-neck”).
Elephants may be more conspicuous than anyplace else in Kenya, partly because they have become accustomed to close observation by visitors and scientists, as have lions and giraffes.
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