elephants

AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK

“Home of the African Elephant”

Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, the Amboseli National Parks is one of Kenya’s most popular parks. The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Nature lovers can explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah and woodlands.  They can also visit the local Maasai community who live around the park and experience their authentic culture.

Description

Amboseli National Park (formerly Maasai Amboseli Game Reserve), is a National Park in Kajiado County, Kenya. The name “Amboseli comes from a Maasai word Empusel meaning “salty dust place”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants. To the south of the Amboseli basin the land rises sharply towards Mount Kilimanjaro and the Kenya-Tanzanian border, while wetlands dot the landscape on an east-west transverse, giving an outstanding scenic beauty. The ecosystem’s backdrop to the south is the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at 19,600 feet, adorning three scenic peaks: Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi. It also offers a scenic view to the east where the young volcanic Chyulu range and lava forests stretches into Tsavo West National Park, while up north is a series of hills, including the Losoito, Lemipoti, Ilng’arunyoni and Lemomo hills that extend into the Kenyan highlands. The wetlands including Lake Amboseli are the landscape’s most defining feature. They are charged by groundwater seeps and springs fed through an underground drainage system with water originating on the forested catchments and volcanic soils of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Chyulu Hills.

The Amboseli comprises different habitats ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savannah and woodlands.  The Park is 39,206 ha (392.06 km2) in size at the core of an 8,000 km2 (3,100 sq mi) ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. The Amboseli basin itself is best characterized as a semi-arid savanna, as rainfall within the lower elevations of the watershed averages 340 mm each year, since the area falls in the rain shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. Being located in eastern Africa, the rainfall regime is bimodal due to the movement of a band of low pressure called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Between March and May the long rains fall in Amboseli as the ITCZ passes over, moving north, and from October to December, the ITCZ moves south again, bringing the short rains.

The Amboseli National Park protects a dried-up Pleistocene Lake and semiarid vegetation. The Amboseli basin formed during the Pleistocene (0.117-2.588 ma) when the area was covered by a lake. Vast deposits of lacustrine silts and clays were laid down, reducing the relief of the topography and constricting drainage. The lake has since receded, and while its levels have fluctuated, subsequent to the Late Pleistocene (c.100,000-20,000 BP), the environment is best characterized as swampy and marshy during periods of high water as opposed to open lake conditions. The Amboseli ecosystem abuts the Kenyan-Tanzanian border, encompassing the lower northern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chyulu Hills to the east, basement plains to the north, and scattered granitic outcrops and volcanic cones to the west.  Soils range from a complex of Luvisols and Cambisols in the north, to the saline and sodic lacustrine plains of the Amboseli basin, to well-drained Pleistocene volcanics on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. The soils remain saline and alkaline since the basin still acts as the sump of the closed Amboseli drainage system. The water table is elevated and highly mineralized, though this is appreciably less so in the southern basin where fresh water inflows from Mount Kilimanjaro create a number of permanent swamps.

Amboseli National Park is one of the best wildlife-viewing destinations in the world with 400 species of birds including water birds like pelicans, kingfishers, crakes, hamerkop and 47 raptor species. It is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and hosts endangered species such as Malagasy pond heron. The large mammal community comprises a broad spectrum of herbivores and carnivores. Infact, it is referred to as the “Land of Giants” for its large herds of elephants, which include those with impressively huge tusks. The Park was a safe haven to an incredible bull elephant named Tim. This mighty elephant quickly became one of the major attractions with his size and iconic tusks that reached the ground and was estimated to be around 50 years old at the time of his death from natural causes in 2020. In addition, Amboseli was home to Echo, the most researched elephant in the world, and the subject of many books and documentaries. Thus, the park provides a living memory of iconic species of exceptional physique never witnessed anywhere in the world.

The Park has a rich herbivores population of African bush elephant, Cape buffalo, impala, Maasai giraffe, gerenuks, lesser kudus, Grant’s zebra, gazelles and wildebeest that migrate to the landscape in search of water and pasture during the dry season. The Park has a high elephant population of about 1,800, making a suitable habitat for this iconic species.  It is also home to large carnivores such as lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, jackal and civet. The habitats are markedly influenced by the salinity and alkalinity of the basin as well as by the high-water table. Most of the basin is covered in open short grass plains, and in the south by woodlands and swamps. Surrounding the basin, bushed grassland characteristic of the physiognomic type for the general region prevails.

The Park supports ecological processes by providing a web of migratory corridors for wildlife. The Amboseli ecosystem offers a delicate balance of ecological corridors and dispersal areas, connecting the Amboseli National Park with adjacent group ranches and neighboring conservation areas like Chyulu Hills, Tsavo West and Kilimanjaro West in Tanzania. For example, the Amboseli National Park-Olgulului South-Kitenden-Kilimanjaro Corridor facilitates movement between the montane forests of Kilimanjaro and Amboseli National Park of large mammals, including elephants, elands, buffaloes, African wild dogs, zebras, impalas, and carnivores such as lions, cheetah, leopard and hyena. Amboseli-Kimana-Kuku-Chyulu West Corridor connects several conservancies, including Osupuko, Nailepu and Kilitome in the former Kimana Group Ranch and Motikanju in Kuku Group Ranch. The Amboseli-Olgulului North-Selengei Corridor provides a corridor to diverse wildlife, such as elephants, wildebeest and zebras to access wet-season grazing areas. Amboseli-Olgulului North-Mbirikani Corridor connects the Amboseli National Park to Mbirikani and Chyulu through Olgulului North. This corridor is used by a myriad of wildlife species, such as elephants, wildebeests and zebras that utilize the grassland plains in Mbirikani during the wet season.

The Amboseli Ecosystem is predominantly home to the world-renowned Maasai, whose rich cultural heritage and pastoral practices have shaped the ecological ethos and coexistence with wildlife for millennia. Maasai people and their livestock are an integral part of the Amboseli landscape. The exceptional intersection and coexistence of ecology and the indigenous socio-culture of pastoralism is what has made the ecosystem recognized as a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1991. Amboseli landscape is internationally renowned for being one of Kenya’s ‘conservation jewels’, because it is one of the few places where humans, livestock, and wildlife have co-existed for centuries. The mobility of migratory grazing animals and the species that live here is largely structured by the dry and wet season availability of water and pasture. Most of the species using the basin do so in the dry season only and in the wet season the populations largely disperse into the surrounding areas.

The early successional stages of plant and animal community are subject to acceleration and reversal by changes in rainfall regime and water table fluctuations which has a strong bearing on global events especially the El Niño and La Niña. The dynamics impacting Amboseli’s groundwater table and ecosystem functioning overall are conditioned by environmental factors operating on a global scale notably, extremes in rainfall over eastern Africa which occur due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle that brings increased rainfall during El Niño years, and drought conditions during La Niña episodes. The most conspicuous feature is the decline of the Acacia xanthophloea woodland. The primary cause of habitat changes has been the salinization of the basin area. Increases in the long-term rainfall have raised the water table some 3 to 4 m, resulting in progressive increases in the level of soluble salts in the rooting horizon of the Acacia and other plants. This has caused a marked shift from a hydrophytic to halophytic plant community. Such Changes also appear to have affected the compositions and possibly total biomass levels of the large mammal community. Elephants have definitely played a catalytic role in woodland decline. There is evidence to suggest that the recent habitat changes are producing a habitat type which existed last century when the climate was slightly moister than during the intervening period.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (vii): Amboseli National Park present one of the most impressive landscapes of Eastern Africa, with its incredible habitats ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, the savanna and woodlands that create an area of great scenic beauty. The Park is famous for being the best place in the world to get close to free-ranging elephants and view Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

Criterion (viii): The Park protects a dried-up Pleistocene Lake, which reveals the climatic conditions of Eastern Africa. The early successional stages of the basin plant and animal community are subject to acceleration and reversal by changes in rainfall regime and water table fluctuations which has a strong bearing on global events especially the El nino and La nina. This influences the historical shift of the plant community from a hydrophytic to halophytic and vice varsa.

Criterion (ix): The varied habitats offer exceptional ecological corridors processes that support wildlife migration in search of food, pasture and water. Amboseli is internationally renowned for being one of Kenya’s ‘conservation jewels’, because it is recognized as a landscape where humans, livestock, and wildlife have co-existed for centuries.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Large scale habitat changes have occurred in Amboseli over the last two decades due to both anthropogenic and natural activities. The most conspicuous feature is the decline of the Acacia xanthophloea woodland, over 90% of the trees having died during this interval. The primary cause of habitat changes has been the salinization of the basin area. Increases in the long term rainfall have raised the water table some 3 to 4 m, resulting in progressive increases in the level of soluble salts in the rooting horizon of the Acacia and other plants. This has caused a marked shift from a hydrophytic to halophytic plant community. Such Changes also appear to have affected the compositions and possibly total biomass levels of the large mammal community. Elephants have probably played a catalytic role in woodland decline. There is no evidence that their populations are suffering compression from human encroachment since the migration trails used as long ago as last century are still used. There is evidence to suggest that the recent habitat changes are producing a habitat type which existed last century when the climate was slightly moister than during the intervening period. It appears that the early successional stages of the basin community are subject to acceleration and reversal by changes in rainfall regime and water table fluctuations.

Conservation and management

Amboseli was set aside as the Southern Reserve for the Maasai in 1906, but returned to local control as a game reserve in 1948. Gazetted a national park in 1974 to protect the core of this unique ecosystem. In 2005, a presidential order declared that control of the park should pass from the Kenya Wildlife Service to the Olkejuado County Council and the Maasai people. So currently it is managed by Kenya Wildlife Service, Olkejuado County Council and the Maasai people. Amboseli was declared a UNESCO-Mab Biosphere Reserve in 1991.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Amboseli is comparable to the Namib Sand Sea in Namibia in that both landscapes are continuously subject to changing climatic regimes specifically experienced through their hydrological dynamics. Just like the Namib Sand Sea, Amboseli’s life forms are as a result of the early successional stages of plant and animal community that were subjected to acceleration and reversal by changes in precipitation and water table fluctuations which has a strong bearing on global climate change.

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