One of the finest places to view elephant on the African continent is Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, with the snow-capped cone of Mount Kilimanjaro as a tall, brooding backdrop. An Amboseli safari – one of Kenya’s best safari experiences – gives visitors a taste of iconic, unspoilt Africa.
We’d come on an Amboseli safari to see the magnificent elephant. A population of more than 1,000 of these gentle giants inhabits this park, which boasts some of the largest pachyderms in Africa. Our camp was called Tortilis Camp Amboseli, set just outside the park near its southwestern edge. Away from the busy eastern section of the park, and with its own private conservancy, guests at this camp experience a wild and private safari.
We gathered on the Tortilis deck after tea and met our wonderful Maasai guide, Leboo. Then we set off on an afternoon game drive in an open 4×4, excited to meet the park’s famous elephant. The backdrop to our adventure was Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, and the highest peak on the African continent.
‘Guides at Tortilis Camp Amboseli have exclusive access to the 12,140ha Kitirua Conservancy,’ said Leboo. ‘We grew up here. We know this land intimately: every flower, every hyena den, every bird. This is really our backyard.’
We traversed the dried-up bed of a Pleistocene lake, passing fresh-water springs packed with hippo. We drew to a halt and Leboo pointed to a herd on our right. ‘Those are eastern white-bearded wildebeest,’ he said. ‘They’re genetically separate from the Masai Mara/Serengeti population.’
After an hour, we stopped and Leboo let us get out and stretch our legs. It was a chance to take a look at some of the smaller elements in the landscape: animal tracks, dung and strange-looking insects. Leboo also shared some of his knowledge about the traditional uses of wild herbs and bark, and the Maasai way of life.
Approaching a swampy area, I was on the lookout for water birds and was soon rewarded with some wonderful sightings: pelicans, kingfishers, crakes, hammerkops and a magnificent African fish eagle perched on branch looking imperious.
Just then, a herd of elephant swaggered into view. Leboo told us to sit still and wait … and they came to us! ‘Amboseli’s elephant herds have been followed and documented for decades by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss,’ he said in a hushed tone as the giants ambled past our vehicle and down to the water.
It was amazing how Leboo knew each individual elephant, its relationships and family history. The herd was drinking now, and the whole scene was bathed in golden light. Behind them, the massive, snow-capped cone rose out of the plain, dominating the horizon.
We spent a long time with the herd, which was completely relaxed in our presence. At first, I kept taking photos, hardly able to contain my excitement. But after a while, I put the camera down and simply soaked up the scene. I listened to the low rumble coming from the elephants’ stomachs, the gentle flapping of their enormous ears. Such blissful, intoxicating peace. I felt I could have spent the rest of our Amboseli safari right there, but it was time to head back to camp, where the fires were being lit and a sumptuous feast under the stars awaited us.