Neighbouring this park, is Chyulu Hills National Park, dividing the plains of Amboseli and Tsavo National Park. The Hills comprise a mountain range topped with hundreds of volcano cones. It is still considered an active volcano site, although the last eruptions occurred in 1856. With terrain that includes highland forest and woodland savanna, Chyulu Hills provides dwelling for a host of wildlife!
HISTORY OF THE AREA
The Amboseli area has an interesting history, beginning with providing a home for hunter–gatherers exclusively until the arrival of Chagga and Kamba tribes many centuries ago. These peoples set about farming the land and were joined by Maasai cattle herders in the early seventeenth century. European discovery of the region came in 1883, through the explorations of Joseph Thomson, whose name is honoured in the Thomson’s gazelle. Thomson had been requested by the Royal Geographical Society to establish a safe route for British Empire traders from Africa’s eastern coast to just north of Lake Victoria, a route unknown to other traders in the area. He succeeded in this mission and his accounts sparked interest in Amboseli. Colonial settlers moved in.
The next significant date is 1899, when colonial government created the Southern Maasai Reserve, essentially restricting the Maasai people to a region of no use to colonial farmers. This restriction was removed in 1948, when, keen to preserve the wildlife by creating the Amboseli Reserve, government at the same time permitted the Maasai people access to the entire area. Later still, in 1961, Kajiado District Council took control, only for the land to suffer due to tourism and encroachment. In 1974, President Jomo Kenyatta opted to protect the area by granting national park status. Most recently, in 1991, Amboseli became a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Chyulu Hills became a national park in 1983.
Thomson commented on the wealth of wildlife in Amboseli, in addition to the fascinating contrast between its verdant swamps and dried-up lake bed. It is due to the swamplands, their reliability as a water source, that the wildlife is so prolific! Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, stands over the park at a height of 5,000 metres and its meltwater sustains the swamps throughout the year. Amboseli has woodlands too, but the swamps really are its finest feature.
Within the park, there are several separate conservancies, but all share an abundance of animals, making for great game drives and walking safaris. Four of the Big Five may be viewed here – lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant. As mentioned above, if you like getting up close to elephant, Amboseli is the best place in Africa to do it! There may be no leopard, but there are plenty of other predators such as cheetah, spotted hyena and jackals. Herbivore numbers are impressive too, including loads of Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, Burchell’s zebra, Maasai giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, eland and waterbuck. Hippo may be spotted in the west of the region, in Lake Kioko.
Bird populations in Amboseli are also very impressive, with more than 400 species recorded to date! Waterbirds are particularly prevalent and the park is also home to a few endangered species – among these, lesser kestrel, lesser flamingo and Madagascar pond-heron. There are bee-eaters too, in addition to bustards, buzzards, crakes, cranes, eagles, egrets, falcons, francolins, geese, goshawks, harriers, herons… and that’s just the beginning of the alphabet! If you love birding, you will love Amboseli.
Chyulu Hills also has plenty to recommend it as a safari destination. The lower western slopes, with their sprawling woodland savanna, are home to all Big Five animals, in addition to Grant’s zebra, Maasai giraffe, eland, reedbuck, bushbuck, bushpig, wildebeest, and more! Cheetah roam the less wooded areas. The highland forest supports such species as hogs and lizards, plus a wealth of birdlife. There are plenty of birds in the lowlands too, ranging from martial eagle to white-starred robin.
Understandably, activities in both Amboseli and Chyulu Hills are focused on the wildlife, but many camps and lodges offer cultural excursions as well. For example, one of our featured camps, Tortilis, arranges visits to a Maasai homestead. If you have time to include this in your trip, it is a great way to get to know the local people and to appreciate Amboseli in a broader historical context. Highly recommended by YZ!