Amboseli National Park (392 Sq. Km)
A vast area stretching from the present Masai National Reserve through Amboseli and then down to Tsavo National Park in the then Ukambani Province was established as the Southern Game Reserve in 1899. However in 1948, Amboseliís 3,260 sq. kms. was cut from the larger Southern Game Reserve and made a separate National Reserve under the then Royal National Parks of Kenya Organisation and named "Masai Amboseli Game Reserve" to ensure that both the Maasai and wildlife co-existed peacefully in the area.
In 1961, the Royal National Parks Trustees, convinced that the problems of Amboseli could be handled by the Maasai themselves, handed over the reserve to the Kajiado County Council with a warning that Amboseliís assets especially wildlife which had already started attracting thousands of tourists to the country must be properly preserved for the coming generations. Although the maasai co-existed well with the wildlife in the area, continued over-grazing around Amboseli swamplands especially during the dry seasons, threatened the future of Amboseli as a tourist destination and a wildlife conservation area. Fearing that the expanding Maasai population and their livestock would overrun and destroy the attractions of Amboseli, the Government declared 392 sq. kms. encompassing the Amboseli swamps as a National park in 1974, after making adequate arrangements to supply the Maasai with water sources outside the park for their livestock.
It is a dry country with rains in March, April and May (long rains - 160 mm) and November to December (short rains - 80 mm) and standing about 250 kilometres south-east of Nairobi at the foot of the highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, 5.895 metres (19340 ft.). The western section of the park is an ancient lake bed which at present is only seasonally flooded. For the rest of the year, it is a dry flat stretch of country. The central pillars of life in Amboseli are the two large swampy areas - Enkongo Narok and Ol Okenya, at the south and south-eastern corners of the park. They receive their waters from the snow capped peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro which travel underground to emerge on the plains as springs forming the two swamps which sustain the wildlife and vegetation. Here, elephants can be seen feeding waist deep in water and hippos resting in deep pools. The rest of the park is either a dry open plain, yellow-barked acacia woodland, or rocky lava strewn thorn-bush country with several small hills dotting the landscape. These are dominated by the massive Ol Doinyo Orok Hill and the immerse bulk of Mt. Kilimanjaro just across the border in Tanzania.
Today Amboseli supports one of the most varied Wildlife species in the country ranging from the grounds squirrels to dik dik, zebra, eland, wildbeest, black-rhino, masai giraffe, the famous black-maned Amboseli lions, elephants, grantís and Thompsonís gazelle, cheetah, gerenuk, impala, leopard, water-buck, fringe-eared oryx, yellow-baboon, Jackals and spotted hyena. Birds are amazing plentiful with over 400 species having been identified. Commonest species are masai ostrich, white pelicans, egrets, hammerkop, white stork, herons, plovers, sand grouse, yellow-weaverbirds, superb starling, ibises, greater and lesser flamingo, ducks, vultures and many others.
Visitors to Amboseli always wonder how such a dry country supports such a large concentration of wildlife. The underground water riddle is the answer. The swamps have made Amboseli one of the best parks and undoubtedly the second most popular park in the country after Nairobi National Park. It is also one of the best homes of the famous Maasai people who have learned to live harmoniously with the wildlife which surrounds them. Their attractive traditions and rich culture add to the fascinations of this beautiful park. Its best game runs are around Enkongo Narok Swamp and Ol Okenya lake swamp.