Amboseli is synonymous with elephants. And while the elephants my look the same to the casual observer, every elephant in Amboseli has a name and can be identified by the researchers studying them. The Jane Goodall of the African elephant world is Cynthia Moss. She has been studying the elephants of Amboseli since 1972 and formed the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (http://www.elephanttrust.org/) which has resulted in a much greater understanding of these amazing animals and helped protect them and their natural habitat.
These two elephants had just finished dusting themselves with dirt prior to heading back towards Mt. Kilimanjaro. With no appreciable rain for over two years, the elephants have to travel long distances to find food and water. Thankfully, a few months after I had visited the park the rains finally came and almost instantly the land was transformed from a desert into a lush green savannah.
The old matriarch of the herd brings up the rear as two huge African elephants make there way across the dusty, dry earth of Amboseli National Park. I lost count of the number of dead wildebeest and zebra that had been affected by the drought. Once elephants reach about 5 years of age they become extremely drought tolerant. However, adult females will stop cycling until they build up enough fat reserves to support a pregnancy and often the young elephants will die during a drought due to decreased fat content of the mother’s milk and lack of vegetation. The adults are much more capable of traveling long distances to find food and watering holes but instead of moving in large groups, they break off into smaller groups in search of food and very little time is spent socializing and playing because all of their time needs to be spent searching and eating food to sustain themselves. The average adult African elephant consumes about 400lbs of vegetation a day!
There isn’t much that is better than relaxing at the end of a long day and watching a beautiful sunset, unless of course you are in Africa, where the sunsets seem so much more intense. Add in a majestic elephant and this was the perfect ending to an awesome day of game viewing.
After a day of frustration in Nairobi due to a late start by the tour company we made it to Amboseli National Park just as the sun was setting and the clouds were lifting from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. With the light fading fast I snapped this photo of the mountain as we sped down the road. Although I have traveled to many of the parks in Kenya, I had yet to make it to Amboseli and so when my trip to Samburu National Park in northern Kenya fell through I decided it would would be a perfect time to visit. Amboseli is renowned for it’s elephants and the views of the volcanic, Mount Kilimanjaro. Mt. Kilimanjaro contains virtually every ecosystem on earth – glacier, snowfields, deserts, alpine moorland, savannah, and tropical jungle and a hike up the slopes is said to be comparable to a trip from the equator to the North Pole. It is the tallest mountain in Africa at a height of 5895 meters or 19,340 feet and it also holds the title of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world rising 4900 meters or 16 000 feet above the plains at its base. While it is located entirely within Tanzania some of the best views are from Kenya.
This photo was taken from on top of Observation hill in Amboseli National Park. The park has not received more than a few drops of rain in over two years! I lost count of the number of dead zebra and wildebeest and even other more drought resistant species like elephant and giraffe are severely affected. also cattle we saw on our game drives. So why is there this oasis of water and green vegetation? It is the result of the melting glaciers and snow on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro running down the sides of the mountains. The water from Mt. Kilimanjaro travels several hundred kilometers to the Indian ocean and is often the only source of water for humans and wildlife along the way. Elephants and buffalo are routinely found almost completely submerged in the marshes eating, cooling off and getting a drink while other species come to the edges to drink. By continually walking on the bottom of the marsh the elephants pack down the mud and ensure that the watering holes don’t get filled in and dry up. However, the glaciers and snow on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro are disappearing at an alarming rate which is believed to be due to global warming and the removal of large portions of the forests that grow on the sides of the mountain. It is estimated that within the next 20 years all of the frozen water on top of the mountain will have melted with devastating effects felt by the people and animals that rely on it to survive.
One of my favorites. I took this photo from the community campsite I was staying at inside Amboseli National Park. Most of the classic photos of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background with elephants making their way across the savannah are from Amboseli National Park. The tour guide that I had on this trip was not very accommodating so instead of going on an early morning game drive I only had the option of waking up early and walking around the campsite grounds to take photos. Thankfully, the area was quiet large and I lucked out and saw elephants browsing on acacia trees, wildebeest making their way to the watering holes and a beautiful sunrise with a clear view of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The normally majestic looking giraffe appears quiet out of ordinary when it requires a drink. Giraffe can go long periods of time without drinking, which is probably a good thing because it is so awkward for them to bend over. Physiologically, giraffe have unique anatomical differences in their blood vessels to allow them to lower their heads from a height of approximately 15 feet above ground to below ground level without fainting either when drinking or when they quickly raise their heads back up to normal position. Giraffe also have exceptionally long, dark tongues (up to 17 inches) that are incredibly tough. Both males and females have horns covered in skin. When the males fight for dominance or a mate they stand parallel with each other, swing their head and necks outward and down until they collide together around chest high. In this photo the bird in flight is an oxpecker that couldn’t hold on when the giraffe lowered it’s head. It quickly flew back onto the giraffe’s neck and a few minutes later was inside the giraffe’s ear picking out insects.
These giraffe all lined near the watering hole at the Ol Pejeta tented camp. The adult male was keeping the three females close to him as a younger male had also made his way to the watering hole and was interested in the females, but it wasn’t reciprocated. Their are three species of giraffe in Kenya, with the other two being the Maasai and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe which is pretty much isolated to Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. It is estimated that giraffes sleep about 45 minutes a day and when a giraffe is born it falls about six feet to the ground!
This photo was just a matter of patience and timing. These two female reticulated giraffe had just finished drinking at the watering hole and were surveying the landscape. Everything from the mud on their feet to the position of their bodies matched up and made for an interesting photo.
I took this photo when I was having to wait along side the busy road between Nairobi and Mombasa for a bus to take the other people in the van I was traveling with to Mombasa for the rest of the holiday while I headed back to Nairobi. I used my telephoto lens from inside the van I was in to take this photo of a woman waiting for a customer that pulled up on his bicycle with the Kenyan flag on the front fender to enter her roadside fruit and vegetable shop.
I just managed to stop laughing long enough to take this picture. We were stopped at a gas station filling up on fuel, food and water when this truck pulled in. I didn’t even think it was going to fit under the overhang but they managed to drive it into the gas station and filled up. I believe the container was likely to be used to store water, but as you can see there is not much holding it on to the truck, just a few thin pieces of string! And yes, no yield, oversized vehicle signs or flagging tape. Thankfully I think the truck was so old that is wasn’t capable of accelerating very quickly or being driven very fast. I just hope they got their container home safe and sound without having it roll away and crush anyone!
In all but the major cities there are no real sidewalks, just dirt paths that were once grass but have been trampled by the almost constant presence of people walking, biking, driving , playing and shopping alongside the busy roads. I wanted to try and capture some of these scenes on this trip. I took this picture from a van on my way to Ol Pejeta Conservancy (http://www.olpejetaconservancy.org) in central Kenya. On the right hand side of the photo you can see the black earth caused by all the spilled charcoal being sold in the colourful bags. To the left, hordes of people make there way to and from the matatu (taxi vans that are crammed with people, livestock and everything else you can imagine). In the background a building that hasn’t been completed has large rods of re-bar sticking out of the ‘roof’ while the lower floors are already being used as shops to sell various items.
As you can probably guess from these photos, I managed to get back to East Africa last month, specifically Kenya. The first part of the trip was for work as I was attending and instructing at the 2009 PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance) Healthcare Workshop. Afterwards, I spent a week visiting Amboseli and Maasai Mara National Parks and went on numerous game drives. Over the next several weeks I will be posting the photos from my trip and brief stories about each one.
Although leopards are believed to be the most numerous of the big cats in Africa, they are very elusive and therefore, you have to be incredibly lucky to see one. Samburu National Park in Kenya is the best place to see leopard, but I wasn’t able to get a safari to Samburu this time. However, luck was still on my side, as this one was resting in a tree close to the road in the Maasai Mara. The foliage was very dense and initially all that I could see was a foot and a part of the tail, but after several minutes the leopard changed position and I was able to get this picture. After several minutes it climbed down the trunk and got a drink of water from the small stream below before returning to it’s vantage point in the tree. With it being the rainy season, the undergrowth was very dense and so all that we were able to see during this time were flashes of his spots moving amongst the vegetation. It was amazing to be able to see the leopard move without a sound and blend so well into it’s surroundings.
On this trip I wanted to make sure that I took pictures of some of the daily life and activities of Kenyans and not just focus on the wildlife photography. I took this photo while parked along the Uhuru highway that connects Nairobi to Mombasa at the intersection of the road that heads south to Amboseli National Park. Bicycles are a very common form of transport for everything from water to livestock to furniture to people. This woman flagged down the bicyclist for a ride. Once she was seated and they had started making their way down the highway the man must have told a joke as both burst out into laughter as he pedaled past. As you can see, the tires and frame of the bicycle are coated in red dirt (due to high levels of iron oxide in the soil). All of my clothes, shoes and camera gear got covered in this red soil but amazingly Kenyans wearing white clothes or shoes never seemed to have this problem. They must have some secret for keeping the dust off. Anyway, I will be posting many more photos of various roadside scenes in Kenya over the next few weeks…
One of my favorite photos from the trip. This female spotted hyena and several others were observed during a night game drive at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Mount Kenya. She was initially laying down, but as we approached she slowly got up and walked past us on her way to what turned out to be a den site with many other adult hyenas and pups running around (photos to come in subsequent posts). The menacing shadow of the hyena makes this photo stand out to me and captures the perception of the hyena being a sinister night time predator.