ABOUT THE AMBOSELI ECOSYSTEM
This page contains a wealth of information about the Amboseli Ecosystem so that you can better understand what we are fighting for. The page is broken down into the sections indicated below.
Please explore the rest of the website to find out about the various initiatives and programs that we have implemented to help preserve Amboseli, including some of the ways that you can contribute.
AMBOSELI: A WILDLIFE SPECTACLE
“How can such enormous numbers of large game live in this extraordinary desert,” the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson exclaimed on reaching Amboseli in 1883.
The answer lies in the hills. The towering mass of Kilimanjaro and the young volcanic chain of the Chyulu Hills catch the monsoon rains and channel them into a string of low-lying swamps and woodlands. Thousands of elephants, zebra, wildebeest and gazelle gravitate to these wetland refuges during the dry season. In the rains the migrants fatten up on the fresh grasses that spring up in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.
The interplay of animals also explains Amboseli’s enormous numbers of animals. Each dry season elephants open up the coarser pastures of the woodlands and swamps to a succession of smaller herbivores, including-buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and gazelle.
Amboseli owes its wealth of species to the same forces.
The towering mass of Kilimanjaro rising to 5895 meters (19,340 feet) hosts a diversity of habitats ranging from the permanent glaciers at the roof of Africa to the desert flats of Amboseli. Stretched between lie moorlands, rainforests, swamps, woodlands, dense bush and open plains. The rich tapestry of habitats supports a profusion of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates.
The variety of large herbivores adds to Amboseli’s diversity of species yet further. Elephants and giraffe trim back thickets and create grasslands. Buffalo, zebra and wildebeest trim down grasslands and promote bush lands and woodlands. Each species favors some species of plants and avoids others, creating a rich and changing variety of habitats.
A PLACE OF PEOPLE
For all its wildlife, Amboseli is more a place of people. Hunter-gatherers and pastoralists have shaped the savannas over thousands of years. For the Maasai who settled the East African plains several hundred years ago, Amboseli is pasture for their cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys. The Maasai depend on livestock for milk and meat and their lives and cultures revolve around their herds and the land.
The seasonal migrations of the Maasai and a profound knowledge of the savannas and wildlife are key to their survival in Amboseli’s harsh landscape. Herders move to the greenest pastures when the rains fall, carrying their bare household necessities by donkey. Each dry season they fall back to drought refuges in the swamps and woodlands. An austere lifestyle, hardy breeds of livestock and refined husbandry skills make the Maasai among the most productive herders in Africa. Their migratory life style and avoidance of hunting except in droughts has allowed the Maasai to coexisted with wildlife for centuries and support the richest herds on earth. The savannas are largely shaped by the Maasai and their livestock. The brush and grass cut and trampled around cattle camps soon recovers and flourishes on the fertile dung deposits once abandoned.
DEVELOPMENT AND WILDLIFE
Amboseli National Park was established in 1974 with the recognition that the future of its wildlife depends as much on the Maasai in future as it did in the past. Revenues from the park were shared with the community to win their support for wildlife conservation. Public campsites were relocated outside the park to give the Maasai a stake in the tourism industry. These were the first steps in a new approach to conservation based on communities participation, an approach that has since become national policy in Kenya and over much of the world.
Since the 1970s, Oldoinyo Uas, Kampi ya Kanzi, Tortilis Lodge, Kimana and other many other lodges and campsites have sprung up on group ranches around Amboseli. In 1997 the Maasai of Kimana Group Ranch established the first community-owned wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. The Amboseli Tsavo Group Ranch Conservation Association was convened to promote wildlife conservation, community benefits and the deployment of scouts to combat poaching. Income from Amboseli National Park and the new community wildlife sanctuaries has helped the Maasai to educate their children, create new jobs and diversify their economy.
The involvement of the Maasai in conservation paid off. Wildlife has grown since the park and community wildlife sanctuaries were established and poaching has fallen due to the deployment of community wildlife scouts. Amboseli elephant herds grew from 450 in 1977 when the community engagement in wildlife conservation began to over 1,400 today.
The threat of land fragmentation, water diversion, human-wildlife conflict, poaching and rampant tourism development could reverse Amboseli’s conservation gains. Staving off the threats calls for sound development and wildlife conservation—and finding a workable balance between the two.
Better health care and education is the key to jobs and opportunities in Kenya’s competitive marketplace. Better livestock production and farming methods are needed to raise incomes for families staying on the land. On the conservation front, an expansion of ecotourism and new wildlife enterprises will help preserve land for migratory herds.
Balancing development and conservation in Amboseli calls for collaboration. A remarkable collaboration between the Amboseli communities, government, tourist industry and conservation organizations drew up a conservation and development plan for the Amboseli ecosystem in 2008. The plan maps out areas of farming, settlement, ranching and wildlife use and set up the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust to implement the plan and conserve Amboseli’s rangelands, wildlife and natural resources. The board of AET represents Amboseli’s communities and includes representatives from the government and private sector with conservation interests.
COMMUNITY SCOUTS AND RESOURCE ASSESSORS
In 2002, conservation organizations, tour operators and government helped reinforce the community scouts associations. Today, 300 scouts equipped with vehicles, radios and field equipment patrol the Amboseli ecosystem to deter poachers, stem conflict and monitor wildlife movements. Linked to Kenya Wildlife Service by radio, the scouts have made quick progress and won wide support. Tourist lodges contribute to their running costs. Conservation organizations and donors contribute equipment and supplies.
The information found on this page was prepared by David Western and the Amboseli Research and Conservation Project. ARCP has been conducting research and conservation in the Amboseli since 1967.
HOW TO HELP
You can help preserve Amboseli by giving a donation to support the community scouts or other conservation programs coordinated by the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust.
We bring together the communities and organizations of Amboseli to develop land use practices that improve the livelihoods and wellbeing through the coexistence of people and wildlife.
To keep the Amboseli Ecosystem rangelands open, diverse and healthy for the benefit of people and wildlife.
NEWS FROM AET
Find out about upcoming projects, events, and updates from the Trust. Click here.