Friday 7 December – Amboseli National Park, Kenya
The lion was probably 100 metres away, and it quickly disappeared back into the bush to go back to sleep. I thought things would be more elusive than this. We would see it again much closer later that day.
The Park is almost 300 square miles. Picture a huge, flat, grass covered plain with very few trees and next to Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain acts like a huge rain funnel, condensing moisture from the warm air as it rises and cools. Lake Amboseli and the surrounding swamps are permanently fed from the mountain streams. There have been more rains recently, so the lake has expanded and everything is green. Pretty well everything living in the park eats grass: elephants, hippos, wildebeests, thompson’s and grant’s gazelles, cape buffaloes, zebras, ostriches, and warthogs. Then there are the animals that eat the animals that eat the grass: lions, hyenas, and jackals. The Baboons belong to both groups because they eat anything.
Because it’s so flat, and the grass is so short, you can see the animals and they can see predators from a long distance away. They all contentedly munched their grass, secure in the knowledge that chances are that some other animal was slower/ older/ sicker.
We travelled in a toyota landcruiser that had been converted into an open sided softtop. I guess the animals are used to vehicles because they really didn’t get bothered by our approach. As a result, we saw everything in abundance, and up close. I haven’t had a day like that since we ventured by boat on the Kinabatangan river in Borneo.
Elephants live in family groups led by the oldest female, or matriarch. Our driver, Julius, could see one group coming towards us, and parked the vehicle where he thought they might pass. The matriarch stopped, and you could almost hear her think: “ok, humans are in my path. But I really want to go that way. But the humans are there. Maybe I should go this other way. But I don’t really want to go that way because it’s not a straight line to where I want to go…. ” It took about a minute and a few steps in the other direction, before she decided to it was ok to continue towards us. When she restarted her journey, she was near the lake and must have startled a nearby flamingo, because it took off. That caused about 1000 other flamingoes to take off, which caused the elephant to stop again and wonder why the flamingoes were alarmed. But the sky didn’t fall, and the whole family walked by us no more than a few metres away from where we were sitting in the truck. They did not seem concerned in the least.
We revisited the lions when we were on our way out of the park at the end of the day. They were awake, and we stopped within about 20′ of them. They looked at us with dis-interest, which in hindsight was a good thing. The lioness wandered off. The male seemed to go through this wakeup routine where my camera caught a range of facial expressions.
We are staying at the Porini Amboseli tented camp in the private ~13,000 acre Selenkay reserve , which is about a 1.5 hour drive out of the park. I had read that these eco-tourist areas were important to the national park animals because it keeps the normal migration routes open and undeveloped. Essentially it makes the park bigger. But that will be the next post.