The Amboseli Ecosystem

AMBOSELI: A LAND OF WILDIFE AND PEOPLE

Straddling southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, Amboseli is amongst the richest wildlife areas in Africa.

Elephant, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest and gazelle migrate with the rains in search of green flushes and draw back to permanent swamps in search of water and pasture each dry season. Here densely packed herds attract an array of predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena. The dry bush country harbors giraffe, eland, gerenuk, lesser kudu and a host of smaller animals. Add a rich variety of birds and the dramatic backdrop of Kilimanjaro and it is no wonder that Amboseli is one of Africa’s most iconic landscapes, and a favorite tourist destination.

Amboseli owes its panoply of wildlife to a tapestry of habitats, from glaciers to alpine meadows forests, woodlands, arid bush, grasslands, swamps, seasonal lakes, lava flows and windswept barren flats flanked by high mountains. To the south the 19,600 feet Kilimanjaro towers over the lowland plains of Amboseli. To the east the young volcanic range of the Chyulus reaches into Tsavo West National Park. To the north rise a series of ever darker and more distant hills stretching to the Kenya highlands.

No less important, Amboseli is home to another African icon, the Maasai. The Maasai have survived on their herds of cattle, sheep and goats for hundreds of years in the savannas and thrived by tracking wildlife on their seasonal migrations. By selecting hardy animals and using husbandry practices suited to the arid lands, the Maasai have sustained Amboseli’s grasslands, coexisted with wildlife and survived the severest of droughts.

Today, Amboseli’s wildlife and Maasai culture are at risk from rising human numbers, immigration and the spread of farms, towns and villages into the lowlands. Land subdivision, settlement and fencing is compressing livestock herds and causing conflict with wildlife.

Recognizing that a national park could never be large enough to protect the migratory herds without displacing the Maasai, who have conserved wildlife down the ages, Amboseli was the first park to enlist communities in conservation. The Maasai Kajiado County Council was given a portion of land in the park to guarantee it revenues from tourist lodges. The Maasai communities were given a portion of the park revenues to support wildlife on their lands and encourage them to set up their own wildlife sanctuaries and tourist lodges.

As a result, Amboseli was the first community in East Africa to establish community scouts to protect wildlife and the first to set aside its own wildlife conservancy.

Wildlife has brought benefits to the Maasai in Amboseli that complement their livestock income. It has given hope of reestablishing the traditional coexistence of the past into the future.

In another first, the Amboseli Maasai, in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service, conservation bodies, and tourism operators, have prepared an ecosystem management plan to balance wildlife conservation and community development. The Amboseli Ecosystem Trust has been set up to implement the plan.

David Western
African Conservation Center

Kilimanja

 Black & White Photos © Nick Brandt

 Color Photo © Colleen Hogg

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