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The Amboseli Baby Boom

It’s a veritable nursery on the foothills of Kilimanjaro

Amboseli is an elephant stronghold.

Thanks to the Indian Dipole that has brought in the heavy rains across East Africa, Amboseli’s swamps are full of elephants, big and small. Dr Cynthia Moss, who has been studying free-ranging elephants in the larger Amboseli beyond Amboseli National Park since 1972 and is the founder of Amboseli Trust for Elephants gives an update of the baby boom which is not only limited to the elephants but all other creatures like the buffaloes, wildebeest, and even lions.

Elephant Baby Boom

“Elephants have a baby boom from time to time,” explains Moss. “In times of drought the females may stop breeding and some lose their babies.” In the drought of 2009 and 2010, 425 elephants died.

This year has seen the elephants come close to the record for births. “In 2012, there were 201 births recorded. In 2020, we’ve recorded 170,” states Moss. Compare this to only 19 births in 2019.

2020 is proving to be an even more exciting year. “We have had two sets of twins, something that is very rare.”

The first time elephant twins were recorded in Amboseli was 1980. Thirty-eight later the second set was recorded. This year there have been two sets. Both are thriving.

Elephant matriarch – Dr Cynthia Moss at the research centre in Amboseli national park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

However, Amboseli has many moods. If this time of bounty is followed by a long drought, it may take its toll on the little elephants and others. “We’ll just have to see what happens,” muses Moss.

Moss continues with an update of the mega-herbivore. “At any one time there are no more than 700 elephants in the park.” But the park is tiny measuring 392 square kilometres compared to the larger Amboseli covering over 3,500 square kilometres which is home to 1,700 elephants. They are on Maasai land and Moss has great respect for the pastoral people. “The elephants are here because of the Maasai. They believe that elephants are the only animals with a soul.”

It’s spell-binding to be surrounded by such huge herds of elephants, wildebeest and buffaloes in the swamp around Ol Tukai Lodge, the only lodge open inside the park during the Covid-19 pandemic. And it’s heartening to see a few local tourists enjoy the splendour of the swamp.

Driving to Nomotio Hill also called the Observation Hill overlooking the perennial Enkongu Narok swamp amidst a dry, barren plain, we stop above the culverts on the road straddling the swamp. Swimming against the gushing water are a dozen catfish looking like slithering eels.

The perennial Enkongu Narok Swamp from Nomotio hill in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, In Amboseli National Park.
Copyright Rupi Mangat

Lions of Amboseli

En route to the noxious Lake Amboseli that is usually a dry salt pan, a pride of lions are sitting on the side of the road. It’s a female with six cubs all with nice fat round tummies. According to Lion Guardians working in the Amboseli ecosystem since 2004, the female is identified from a photograph l send them. She is Entibili, part of the Ol Tukai pride and nearly ten years old while the cubs are about 1 year 3 months old.

According to Lion Guardians, there are now more lions surviving past the age of 10 (which is old for lions in the wild). They have recorded 400 lions in the Amboseli-Tsavo enclave.

In the golden light Entibili the lioness and 6 cubs of the Ol Tukai pride in Amboseli national park Aug 2020
Copyright Rupi Mangat

One of the reasons for this is that they work with the local Maasai community by building better cattle enclosures and monitoring the big cats. If the cats get too close, there’s an alert to guard the cattle closely. Hence there are fewer lions killed in revenge for livestock killed, which gives lions a chance to live longer and raise more cubs.

Fact file

Drive in via Emali though Iremito or Kimana gates (stop at the Maasai museum soon to be home to Tim the elephant that died of natural causes in February. He was a ‘tusker’ with each tusk weighing well over 45 kg.).

Ol Tukai Lodge facing the swamp in Amboseli national park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The road via Namanga gate is murram and rough. There’s a new road via Kajiado, less traffic but 40km longer.

Ol Tukai has special resident rates. Log on www.oltukailodge.com

Driving time for 250 kms is five hours depending on traffic.

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