Mt. Kilimanjaro & Amboseli elephants: the tale of Ol Tukai
The Amboseli National park has the highest number of elephants which roam freely around a lodge. The elephants are so habituated due that you will find one feeding right outside your room. Amboseli Park is the classic post card symbol of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Amboseli of Africa. The photo, familiar to most visitor’s, features a herd of elephants wallowing in clear water with a backdrop of a bald-snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I’m chatting with Soila, the project manager of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. The mid-morning sun, a warm orange glow in a blue sky, casts a lush tone of green on the swamp by Ol Tukai lodge. Ambling in the background is one of Soila’s favorite charges, Adam.
“Adam is in his 30s.He”s used to breaking fences and staying near the lodge,” explains the pretty Maasai woman who has worked for the project for more than 20 years and can recognize most of the elephants of Amboseli. “I think he likes being around sometime he will be behind a tree and people will walk right passed him and he trumpet to scare them away”. He was away for four months with a group of males at kimana, a ranch 40 kilometers away.
Adam disappears into the horizon, a grey hulk in a green swamp with Mt. Kilimanjaro glued like a poster in the clear blue sky.
“The AERP office is based in the lodge in the middle of Amboseli”, she continues .And the elephants have influenced them [meaning the lodge] a lot. You have got to see the chandelier of tusks [not real thank goodness] hanging above the bar. All the chalets have elephant brass plates on the doors. “That’s besides the enormous wooden elephant by the bar and other ele-phernalia around Amboseli’s Ol Tukai. Incidentally, Ol Tukai is the name of the palm found around the swamps of Amboseli and very central in many a Maasai ceremony.
Ol Tukai is a beautiful lodge set by the fringe of the swamps that’s fed by the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. I enjoy a couple of refreshing laps in the swimming pool and afterwards, a mini massage in the beauty clinic. One is spoilt for choice at the lodge where there is everything from French manicure and pedicure to aromatherapy massages while the elephants keep busy in the swamp right outside.
The AERP project was started in Amboseli by Cynthia Moss, a world renowned authority on elephants. Cynthia came to Amboseli in the early 70s and so began one of the greatest chronicles of elephant’s family in the world. The AERP is renowned as the most longest and most detail of free–living elephants. Today, names like Adam and Echo of Amboseli are known to a world –wide audience watching wildlife documentaries in the comfort of their sitting rooms.
The elephants of Amboseli are very special. Every one of them has a file complete with a photograph, name, number and code. The project, like its founder, is renowned as the longest and most detail study of free living elephants since 1972. It is used as the model of assessing the status of other elephant of populations in Africa. It’s also used increasingly as a baseline data on the elephant social and reproductive patterns.
Elephants are like people comments Soila. “Some are weird, some are loners, and some are friendly and others crazy.”
The swamp by Ol Tukai is fascinating, more so because it’s the home ground for the EB family. Cynthia pioneered her research by getting to name each one in alphabetical family units. From the initial ‘E’group, the generation down the family tree has spilt into EA, EB, EC.
We get to meet the Echo of the EB group on the afternoon game drive. She’s really beautiful with a perfect pair of slim curved tusks, the tips almost touching each other in perfect symmetry. With her, is the youngest calf. Echo is the matriarch of her group and well into her 50s.
Ol Tukai of Amboseli is full for the moment after the long rains which have fed the swamps and the grasses. The mirages of the salt lake fed in the sinking sun as we climb up the vent of Nomatio, the tiny mountains from the Pleistocene era when mammoths and mastodons and saber toothed cats ruled the plains and birds with wingspans of 30- feet flew the skies. The time span of the Pleistocene lasted from 1.8million years ago to the last ice age 10,000 years ago. This is also the time that the homospecies became smarter thinkers, more adept at using stone tools and being effective honey-gathers.
Atop the volcanic vent of Nomatio, the clouds lift off Mt.Kilimanjaro. The elephants of Amboseli forage in the swamp below. It’s estimated that in 15 years, the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro would have melted away. Studies show that 73 per cent of the glaciers of Mt.Kilimanjaro have disappeared in a century. The melt down of Kilimanjaro is said to a direct result of global warning.
We know today that we are dependent on the ecosystems. Amboseli without the snows of mount Mt.Kilimanjaro might just become an empty shell.
Arriving back at Ol Tukai from the late evening game drive, Mt.Kilimanjaro stands perfectly framed through the open door of the foyer. In the classic picture that is Amboseli, A solitary grey bull walks by the mountain.
Outside, the Maasai moran will entertain the dinners and the stars will shine like blazing rocks in the sky.
How to get there:
Your tour operator will pick you from the airport for a night in a Nairobi hotel. Alternatively you can opt to go directly to Amboseli depending on your time of arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Transfer from Nairobi to Ol Tukai lodge is by minivan about 3hr drive. See more details and itineraries here or email the author.
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About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.
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