Crouched low, ears flattened and tail swishing softly from side to side, the spotted cat looked up from the shadow of the termite hill, its golden eyes glinting in the evening sun.
Thompson Gazelles a few meter ahead continue munching on the fresh grass, twitchy, yet oblivious of the imminent danger facing them.
A slow, almost inaudible growl rumbled from the cheetah’s throat. Its small head widened into a thick neck; the short mane bristling between the ears and into the curve of the back. It was a young female. And she was hungry.
The cheetah waited, watched and listened. Muscles tensed and coiled, she sniffed the air for one last time, feline sinew tightened beneath a yellow coat of spotted black.
Suddenly, she sprung in the direction of the gazelles…
We we’re on an evening game drive at one of the most picturesque parks in Kenya, and it was easy to see why. A big part of its appeal is the setting – Africa’s highest mountain, the snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro, is the backdrop (for seemingly every picture taken here).
With the Great Migration dwindling, wildlife adventure seekers can turn their attention to Amboseli National Park for a more quieter and private safari.
This means lower visitors and fewer crowds at animal sightings giving you the perfect opportunity for an experience of a lifetime.
The park is home to massive herds of elephants, with zebra, impala, gnu and giraffes grazing on the open plains. Predators such as lions and cheetah are often sighted here, with spotted hyenas and jackals plentiful. Although rhinos are elusive, it’s still a rare chance to see the Big Five without the crowds.
There’s possibly no better place in the world to watch elephants than in Amboseli. The ecosystem lies in Mount Kilimanjaro’s rain shadow and the barren plains that emanate out from the park’s swamps are typical of the region. The name ‘Amboseli’, after all, is a translation of the Maa word ‘empusal’, which means ‘salty dust’ or ‘barren place’.
Just as significant, Amboseli was spared the worst of Kenya’s poaching crisis and these elephants are remarkably tolerant of humans (allowing you to get really close). And their tusks are among the biggest in the country.
For birders, look out for the rare common redshanks, purple swamp hens and Eurasian thick-knees. Amboseli is one of only two places where you can see the Taita golden weaver.
In and near the marshes African jacanas are abundant, and you’ll typically find several species of heron, such as squacco, grey, goliath and black-headed, plus great white egrets, glossy ibises, Egyptian geese, and blacksmith and spur-winged plovers.
When 37-year-old Elaine and her family from Australia visited Amboseli last October, they came upon a herd of around 42 elephants just near the Ol TUkai swamp. They were travelling in a Toyota Land Cruiser, and immediately took off after the behemoths, which ended up joining another herd of about half the size at the shallow side of the marsh.
There’re several such water bodies across Amboseli including Enkongo or Ngong Narok Narok, Engone Naibor, Ol Tukai, Longinye and Ologinya or Ol Okenya and are fed by spring water coming from the melting snows of the Mount Kilimanjaro making it a vital source of water.
“It was the best trip ever,” Elaine says
This sort of abundance of free-roaming wildlife is, for some, what sets Amboseli apart from more popular safari destinations in Kenya. Africa’s highest peak broods over the southern boundary of the park, and while cloud cover can render the mountain’s massive bulk invisible for much of the day, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas when the weather clears, usually at dawn and/or dusk.
With lion numbers having reached critical levels, less than 2000 lions are thought to remain in the country. Fewer than 100 of these inhabit the Amboseli ecosystem and around half of these live outside park boundaries, sharing the land with the Maasai and their herds of livestock.
Apart from guaranteed elephant sightings, you’ll also see wildebeest and zebras, and you’ve a reasonable chance of spotting lions and hyenas. The park is also home to over 370 bird species.
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