October 8, 2017
It is often said that Kenya is the gateway to the vast continent called Africa. To explore Africa, one must first visit Kenya. Kenya is a world attraction for its rich abundance of wildlife, most of which can be found in its National parks and Game Reserves. One of the world’s most famous travel destinations, Kenya is well-known for its remarkable diversity of landscapes, animals and cultures. It encompasses savannah, lake lands, and the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. From infinite plains to the snow-capped Kilimanjaro mountain summit, Kenya provides a striking backdrop for Africa’s most classic wild life expeditions. There are numerous national parks in Kenya. Lake Turkana National Park and Mount Kenya national park are world heritage sites.
Seven wildlife enthusiasts with Ashley Rasquinha as the leader, planned this wildlife trip (with Seven professional high end canon DSLR cameras and various lenses comprising of wide angle, telephoto, macro, Zoom lenses) with the sole intention of witnessing and documenting the ecology of Amboseli National Park, offering views of Tanzania's 5,895m Mt. Kilimanjaro. All five, Professionals in their respective fields have earlier travelled to various wildlife sanctuaries in India and a few abroad and have demonstrated a passion and desire towards wildlife conservation. Daijiworld has been kind enough to cover some of these trips and the articles can be accessed in the archives. The team consisted of Ashley Rasquinha, Dr Sneha Rasquinha, and their children Aarav (12 years) and Nikita (8 years), Suresh Frank, Dr Anand and Geeta Pereira. Incidentally, Aarav, the little champion of wildlife is a walking encyclopaedia on Avian fauna (Daijiworld published an article on Aarav in the year 2012, Birds through the Lens of a Seven-year-old).
This article highlights the first leg of our journey to the heartland of Amboseli National Park, formerly Maasai Amboseli Game Reserve. Amboseli National Park is the second most popular national park in Kenya after Maasai Mara National Reserve. The park also offers spectacular views of Tanzania's 5,895m Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Amboseli is considered to be one of the world's optimal places for viewing wildlife. The park is 39,206 hectares in size at the core of an 8,000 square kilometres ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. Even though the area receives a modest 15 inches of rainfall, the park has a fragile ecosystem that sustains millions of wildebeest and other wildlife like Lions, Elands, Topi, African bush elephants, blue wildebeests, plains zebras, Maasai giraffes, Cape buffalos, Maasai lions, spotted hyenas, cheetahs, impalas, wild dogs, crocodiles, nocturnal porcupines, gazelles, rhinos, hippos, mongooses, hyraxes, dik-diks, lesser kudus, Coke’s Hartebeest, White-bearded Gnu, Common Waterbuck, Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles. Smaller mammals include Black-faced Vervet Monkey, Yellow Baboon, Black-backed Jackals, Spotted Hyena and Bat-eared Foxes. Caracal and Serval cats are sometimes seen. The Park is home to 600 species of birds.
As an ecologist, it was fascinating to observe the wildlife diversity amid the contrast between the arid areas of the dry lake bed and the oasis of the swamps, a contrast that persists even today. Amboseli National Park, is not just about spotting wildlife. One needs to understand that the Park is made up of several distinct habitats that include savannah, woodlands, wetlands, semi aquatic, ponds, rivulets, swamps, marshes, grasslands, barren lands and the mostly dried up Lake Amboseli. 10,000 years ago the lake was a permanent lake at least 40 meters in depth. It is small and only seasonal today. We could see with our naked eyes, the devastation caused by global warming where the Acacia trees and other semi-hardwood species were dying out, literally creating a desert like situation with regular dust storms. Very few of the fine acacias, once a feature of this region, remain. In our personal opinion, the Park is slowly losing out on its self-sustaining capacity unless urgent measures are taken to arrest the accelerated decline in tree population.
For a first time visitor, the National Park is truly the best place in the world to get close to free ranging elephants. The elephants of Amboseli are renowned for having the heaviest ivory in Kenya. We were surprised and shocked to see diverse herds of elephants at close proximity, some of them within handshaking distance in the comfort of our land cruiser.
Despite vast stretches of dry land we were amazed to see swamps in the middle of nowhere, watered by underground streams from Mount Kilimanjaro. But for this oasis, Amboseli would not have had the sustaining power to accommodate some of the Planets largest land mammals.
Amboseli was also home to Echo, perhaps the most researched elephant in the world, and the subject of many books and documentaries, followed for almost four decades by American conservationist Dr Cynthia Moss. Echo died in 2009 when she was about 60 years old.
Elephants have excellent long-term memory and are capable of remembering experiences for long periods of time. Research has shown that elephants are able to recognize other herd members decades after they have last interacted with them.
Once inside the park, Wildlife sighting both big and small is pretty easy because of the unique ecosystem. The vegetation is sparse due to the long dry months and the flat terrains extending miles makes it easy to spot animals and birds from a distance. More importantly, we were gifted to have an efficient guide in Richard who spoke good English (Not the Queen’s English) but we had to pause at intervals before completing a sentence, to be clearly understood. Richard had a hawk’s eye and a keen sense of knowing where to find the Swamp lions and the elusive smaller yet significant cats. Another quality of Richard was that when we posed questions, he would refer to his guide book and give us the correct answer and in instances when he was not sure of the answer, he would say, Well, “I do not know”. We were fortunate to have Richard with us throughout our seven day trip covering various game reserves in his Land Cruzer which had a flawless suspension, literally a palace on wheels.
For photographers, at times it is a challenge to shoot a brilliant shot because the loose surface of the volcanic soil erupts into a dust storm referred to as Dust-devils blurring the image. We may have lost quite a few prize winning shots because of this.
While visitors to Amboseli National Park are usually not permitted to leave their vehicle because of the dangers associated with the wildlife, they can get out at Observation Hill - which is a pyramid shaped hill that provides an excellent view of the surroundings.
Despite the large herbivore population, surprisingly Amboseli National Park supports less number of predators like lions, cheetah and leopard. We have no answer to this question neither did the guide!
We were happy to pick a variety of lapel pins in the souvenir shop with monograms of wildlife, observed inside the park. We do hope the same strategy can be replicated in our Game Reserves. Each of us should be proud to pin them on our shirts.
In the coming weeks we would like to write about our sojourn to other wildlife Parks inside Kenya.
Join us in making wildlife conservation an everyday habit.
These wildlife pictures of Amboseli National Park were shot by Ashley Rasquinha, Joint Managing Director, Electropneumatics and Hydraulics (I) Pvt.Ltd.Pune. Ashley is a naturalist and brings out a calendar on wildlife each year to help people understand the value of wildlife conservation.
Dr Anand & Geeta Pereira - Archives