Published Satmag 19 July 2023
Elegant necks stretch to the leaves of the acacia, patterned to reveal that they are the Maasai giraffes on the plains of Amboseli. On reaching closer, we see the foals – mini versions of their mums – and we realize that we’ve come across a nursery of giraffe mums watching over their young.
The amazing thing is that we are not yet inside the 392-square-kilometre Amboseli National Park that is part of the greater 3,500-square-kilometre plus Amboseli ecosystem. It’s an exciting moment watching these gentle giants from the side of the tarmac road. The shy herd moves away from the road to for safety. The giraffe is another species dwindling rapidly in numbers if no action is taken.
“Why are they outside the park?” ask the kids. I have a quick think before answering.
“All wild animals like giraffes, lions, elephants and antelopes cannot be fenced in. They need large spaces to find food to eat and new partners to mate with. This keeps the animals and the landscape healthy.”
They seem okay with the answer, delighted to see more wildlife en route to Iremito Gate from where the magic of Amboseli the park begins with its tapestry of swamps, flooded plains, ancient lake bed, wooded glades and desert pans.
A Morning to Relish
It’s a diva’s life. In the first light of the day, we’re on the game drive under the guard of Kilimanjaro. The only thing is that in the cold months of year, the clouds are so heavy that they render the iconic mountain invisible.
As the sun lights the plains, the elephants make for the swamps fed by the mountain’s snow, pulling out clumps of green grasses to chomp on. On the grass plains, an elephant family grazes in the company of a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes – both species now listed ‘endangered’.
In the early hours of the morning, the lion’s roar had travelled through the silent savannah. Now the king of beasts, complete with his blonde mane walks majestically across the dry sands to find a shaded spot for the day
With the current drought, the water is receding and the huge flocks of the pink-feathered Lesser flamingos have fled for saltier waters. But the other waterbirds like the jacana (also called the lily trotter aka ‘Jesus bird’ because it walks on floating lily leaves) and the Saddle-billed stork still delight.
Three hours later, the drivers stop in an acacia grove for us to stretch legs. It’s a ploy for the surprise bush breakfast laid out by Amboseli Serena Lodge complete with champagne – it’s a diva’s life.
And there are more divas in Amboseli like Norah Njiriani, a trailblazer in the Maasai community and the very first research assistant recruited to the Amboseli Elephant Research Programe under the famed Amboseli Trust for Elephants to study the Amboseli males – we’re talking elephant males some three decades ago. The elephants of Amboseli are the longest-studied free-ranging elephants in the world, the research started by the legendary Dr Cynthia Moss in 1972 who is still active in the field.
Njiriani captivates the group with her close affiliation with her elephant ‘family’. She knows most by sight as they know her. When a herd walks through the palms near the research camp she introduces them by name, making the kids fall in love with the elephant woman instantly.
Njiriani may have just lit a flame in the next generation of elephant researchers.
At Amboseli Serena Lodge https://www.serenahotels.com/amboseli/
The Maasai-themed lodge is a novelty – the exterior designed like Maasai manyattas and the interior delightfully modern. It boasts a spa and the swimming pool.
Do visit the elephant research centre to learn more about the elephants of Amboseli, the challenges they face in a world changing rapidly with avocado farms and infrastructure blocking the migratory corridors. https://www.elephanttrust.org/
It’s US$ 90 per person. Your money goes into supporting the amazing work of
Drive in via Emali through Iremito or Kimana gates (stop at the Maasai museum soon to be home to Tim the elephant who was one of Moss’s favourites. Aged 51 he died of natural causes in March 2020. He was one of Africa’s last and largest ‘tuskers’, each weighing well over 50 kilogrames each. Casts of his tusks hang at the research centre.
Driving time from Nairobi is 250 kms and five hours depending on traffic or fly from Nairobi.