Just a four-hour drive from the vibrant capital of Nairobi, the dusty plains of Amboseli lie 1,150 metres above sea level and are home to over 50 mammals, including one of the most notable elephant populations in Africa. The backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro does not just serve to provide a spectacular setting, but the water from the volcanic formation of Africa’s tallest mountain also sustains the park’s ecosystem.
The secluded Porini Amboseli Camp offered us the best of both safari worlds – not only could we watch from tarred roads as herds and herds of elephants wandered majestically to the marshy swamplands of the national park, but we could also get off-road in the more arid landscape of the Selenkay Conservancy where we chanced upon lone tuskers lurking inconspicuously in the bushes near camp.
Amboseli became a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1991 and is home to a few major league celebrities like the incredible elephant Tim, who has unwittingly become a world ambassador in the fight to protect big tuskers. And protecting tuskers is the park’s main focus thanks to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, which aims to ensure the long-term welfare of Africa’s beloved pachyderms.
The trust’s main research arm, the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, began in 1972 when there were only 800 elephants in the park, and the programme has significantly altered the way elephant populations are considered and conserved. Thanks to good management and protection, the pachyderm population grew significantly over the course of the following three decades, so that by 2008 there was a healthy total of 1,600 elephants that could call the park their home. Since then drought has sadly killed more than 300 families but the park has still managed to maintain a population of about 1,200 elephants, which is no mean feat considering the current poaching crisis.
After spending three days watching some of these gentle giants go about their business with their families, I appreciate more than ever that they are sentient, intelligent and socially complex animals worthy of our respect and protection at all costs. And here are just a few things that make them so extraordinary.
Did you know?
– All they want for Christmas is their two front teeth. Elephants live to about 60 years of age and have about six sets of teeth during this lifespan. They eventually pass away from not being able to get enough sustenance without teeth to chew their food properly.
– Girls rule and boys drool. Male elephants get kicked out of the herd when they’re about 12 years old.
– Mother’s Day celebrations are in order. Elephants have a 22-month pregnancy, which is the longest incubation period of any mammal.
– They can give Usain Bolt a run for his money. Elephants can reach speeds of up to 30km/hour, which is not that far behind world record holder, Usain Bolt, who has hit the 48km/hour mark.
– A fifth leg. An elephant penis can weigh up to 27kg. No further comment required.