East Africa - Part 1
Posted on Tuesday, 20 November 2018
In terms of African land based wildlife destinations Chris & I spend most of our time in Southern Africa. This past October we had a couple of very specific photographic goals in mind and in order to achieve this we needed to travel to East Africa, the birth place of The African Safari.
At Amboseli National Park in Kenya we would be focusing on Elephants and in The Serengeti in Tanzania we would be spending our time looking for Cats.
AMOBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
Amboseli is a small National Park, just 400km2, located in Southern Kenya. It is world famous for its large herds of elephants and the fact that it lies nestled beneath the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. Mount Kilimanjaro is the World’s largest free standing mountain which towers straight up from the ground to 5895 meters high. This towering giant is iconic and is an extremely impressive backdrop to huge herds of elephant that exist within the Amboseli system.
Like with so many things in nature, a near perfect balance exists within this eco system. Melt water from snow-capped Kilimanjaro is a constant water feed into the swampy areas within Amboseli. This is the perfect place for elephants to hydrate themselves as well as being able to wallow in the swamps and cool themselves down during the heat of the day.
From a nutrient point of view, the soft marsh-like vegetation is not enough to sustain them and this means an almost daily trek from the marshland to the woodland areas nearly 30 kilometres away. The variety of vegetation in the woodlands provide the elephants with the sustenance they need.
As Chris' photography evolves we are finding there are very specific images that we are now looking for. One such image is of a huge herd of elephant crossing a dry and dusty area, meaning strong subjects against a very clean background.
Such an opportunity is possible in Amboseli as some of the elephants cross a large, dry lake most days as they travel between the woodlands and the swamp area. This has been on our radar for the past 5 years but it was only this year that we were able to organise this specific trip.
When we landed in Amboseli our guide from Tortillis Camp, Junior, was immediately briefed as to what we were looking for. Both Chris & I watched as his face drained of colour and an almost forlorn expression took hold. It turns out that this is the first time since 1984 that the “dry” lakes are now completely filled with water!
The region had recently experienced the highest rainfall in 30 years and as a result Amboseli had completely transformed itself. The normally ultra-dusty and dry areas were now either water logged or covered in long grass. Thousands of flamingos had arrived and were joined by a large variety of other water and wader bird species. It was spectacular but when one is looking for a desert, it was somewhat disappointing!
We know all too well that one cannot plan or expect things to happen in nature, and most times you just have to go with what is working. The good news is that we still had big herds of elephants crossing, al be it over grassy plains (not too bad!) as well as over some dryer areas. The difficult aspect was being in the right place at the right time, meaning trying to monitor where the herds were crossing and then trying to get ahead of the approaching elephants as quickly as possible, well in advance of their arrival, so we did not to disturb them.
Amboseli and East Africa in general is also famous for the “Tusker” gene meaning a fair percentage of the elephants here, including females, have large and extremely impressive tusks. Not only are these elephants very rare to see nowadays but they are truly magnificent.
We saw a lot of females with tusks so large you would have thought they were males and we were also very privileged to see two of the Parks famous male Tuskers, namely Abel and Pascal. Amboselli still has these big tuskers due to the constant patrolling of the park by many armed rangers and you are constantly aware of how these elephants are being protected. People here are proud of these elephants and each one is quite rightly a national treasure. Sadly the scourge of poaching in Africa has all but wiped out the magnificent giant tuskers that used to be commonly seen in many of East and Southern Africa’s wild places. Whilst it was great to see how much effort is being put into protecting these living icons it was sad to think that these were the lengths that governments that care have to go to in order to keep these animals alive. It is a sad indictment of humanity that there are still people who would rather have a chunk of ivory on their mantle pieces or as jewellery rather than knowing these majestic giants still roam the African Plains.
One of the most famous Tuskers in Africa is a male called “Tim” and as he resides in Amboseli we were very much wanting to see him. Just to see him would have been amazing but the chance to actually photograph him would have been an incredible opportunity as well.
Early one morning we got a call that Tim had been spotted. It was nearly 1.5 hours away from us and by the time we got there Tim and his askaris had moved further up the valley and into very rocky terrain that was densely vegetated. We manged to slowly work our way through the thick bush with the Landrover and eventually got close enough to see a number of grey shapes feeding in the very dense bush. We could go no further and could only hope that Tim would choose to move towards us. Alas, he did not, and no matter how hard we tried for a better angle all we could make out of him was his large rear-end. The group of elephants that Tim was part of moved off shortly after we arrived so we never got to see Tim’s famous set of ivory. Besides being very disappointing it was actually very humorous that all we got to see of this famous elephant was his behind!
It certainly does give us a very good reason to return to Amboseli.
What is interesting to note is that the communities around Amboseli have placed tremendous value on Tim and the fact that his fame brings so many people to Amboseli. This is an elephant that is very well looked after and protected, not only by the Rangers, but by the communities themselves. The same goes for the other big Bulls, and we were also very encouraged to hear how poaching incidents in Amboseli have hugely decreased due to the vigilant patrols and eyes of thousands in the neighbouring communities who live alongside these iconic animals.
After a fantastic stay and some great moments spent with the Elephants it was time to cross the border, enter Tanzania and head into one of the most famous wildlife parks in the world, The Serengeti.