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    Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Amboseli National Park Kenya Africa

    Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge is a luxury exclusive safari lodge located in the heart of the Mbirikani Maasai Group Ranch on the slopes of the Chyulu Hills National Park between Amboseli National Park and Tsavo West National Parks in southeast Kenya. Ol Donyo Wuas means “The spotted hill” in the Masai language, and is named for the hill behind the luxury lodge that has a treeline shaped like a spot on cowhide. Here in the isolated Chyulu hills the Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge is built on lava rock overlooking vast plains with Mount Kilimanjaro rising mistily in the distance. Ol Donyo Lodge Chyulu Hills is one of Kenya’s best kept secrets and it is the only lodge in 275,000 acres of pristine wilderness in the Chyulu Hills, this is a unique Kenya safari experience; nowhere else in Africa allows you to encounter so much wildlife among so few other people in so many different ways. Its location is unrivaled – full views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and in the path of traditional wildlife migration routes.


    Ol Donyo Lodge is a lodge rich in history, passion and conservation. Perched on a hillside, every view looks out across the vast savannah, No two suites or villas are the same, but what is consistent is the attention to detail, the comfortable yet utterly luxurious décor and the tradition of greatness. Regarded as one of the most attractive lodges in East Africa, Ol Donyo Wuas is a place to call home for as long as possible, special care has been taken in every aspect of the lodge. There is no dearth of activities– from culture to wildlife to tracking to horseback riding to mountain biking – Ol Donyo Wuas is a holistic experience. For over 20 years Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Amboseli was the Africa cognoscenti’s dream holiday destination. Tucked away above the heat and malaria of the Kenya coast of Mombasa, and far away from the tourist circuit, Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge was a model for many of the ‘bush safari lodges’ that would follow. Imagine…275,000 acres of scenic Africa, where the wildlife can be found free and roaming, without tourists in mini buses or a set schedule. Imagine…traveling across the archetypal savannahs of East Africa in an open 4x4 game drive vehicle without limitation, feeling the rhythm of Africa beneath your feet as you walk with expert trackers, or horseback riding with Mt. Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. Imagine…exploring this paradise, and then coming home to one of the most luxurious small lodges in Kenya where a hot bath, in or outdoor shower, or private swimming pool await – all with inspiring views across the expansive plains, plus delicious food, charming hosts and world-class service.


    Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Tsavo Park is an exclusive eco-lodge in the wilderness of southern Kenya; Ol Donyo Wuas comprises luxury private cottages and each solar-powered cottage affords sweeping views as well as a rooftop “star-bed” from which to gaze at the night sky. Decorated in the rustic style of wilderness lodges, the Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Kenya provides comfort and modern amenities including massage services. At Ol Donyo safari Lodge the ‘element of surprise’ is around every corner, and when a lodge is placed upon a 275,000 acre sanctuary— anything is impossible, Ol Donyo Lodge is one of the few areas in East Africa where the Big Five can be found running free and wild outside of a proclaimed national park or game reserve. Yet, over twenty years ago, guests would have been excited if they saw just the fresh footprint of an elephant. Today Ol Donyo Lodge Africa wildlife is thriving, thanks to its practices and its community outreach programs. The area is now the home to some of the largest elephant “tuskers” alive in Africa today. A number of the massive elephants that frequent the lodge’s waterhole carry over 80 pounds of ivory. Amboseli Ol Donyo Lodge is in a really beautiful and remote part of the Chyulu Hills, this is not a place you just go for game viewing only, what you really go to Ol Donyo for is the activities; horseback riding safaris, mountain biking and walking safaris with experienced safari guides who are absolutely amazing, funny and smart. Ol Donyo Lodge is also a great place to learn about, and engage with, the Maasai community. Ol Donyo was the birthplace of the Maasailand Preservation Trust (MPT) which has done an amazing job working with the Maasai community to reduce poaching and promote conservation, exploring The Chyulu Hills is a magical experience and Tsavo Ol Donyo Lodge acts as the perfect starting point to explore this amazing area which rises up to 2,174m. The surrounding area is one vast volcanic geological outcrop covered by scenic and mysterious acacia forests which are the perfect place to see elephants, oryx, topi, zebra, impala and elands, not to mention a variety of around 380 bird species.


    The beautiful hills are bordered by an expanse of black lava flow known as Shetani (Devil) which originate from the hills and is the subject in many local legends. Right now Ol Donyo Lodge Tsavo Kenya guests are able to hike through lushness created by recent rains in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro but perhaps the greatest charm lies in the vast and mainly uninhabited panorama dominated by the mountain. The breadth and depth of Ol Donyo Wuas' living and dining area is absolutely awe-inspiring. Upon entering, one is immediately struck by spaciousness and yet the intimacy. The entire main area is set high on the hillside, and opens completely to the plains below, and Kilimanjaro in the distance. The use of stone, thatch and wood make for a very tactile experience, which fills the senses. The magnificent iron-ore chandeliers coupled with grand fireplace provide a warm glow, accented by the rich earth tones. The space flows; there are no straight lines and unique architectural details give character to every area. Arched doorways, indoor gardens, bronze sculptures, big wood doors, Victorian furniture and romantic prose grace the space. It is one-of-a-kind. Over 7,000 wild animals find their habitat in and around the Ol Donyo Wuas environs. Not only are the "Big Five" here - rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo - but also cheetah, Fringe-eared oryx, gerenuk, and giraffe among many others share this diverse landscape. Guests are able to track wildlife by vehicle, foot, or horseback. And night drives are featured for those interested in spotting the more elusive nocturnal species’ Donyo Wuas serves as an Africa Safari unparalleled by no other.


    Most of the staff at Ol Donyo Wuas Safari Lodge are Maasai and from Mbirikani, this in itself makes for a great 'soft' cultural experience, in the sense that you'll be in a position to chat with them throughout your stay; chances are that the man who brings your coffee in the morning (it's particularly good here) has hunted a lion in his youth. What's a certainty is that his family still live in a traditional Maasai manyatta by choice and that the thorn bomas they build around them aren't for show. Lion and hyena, of which there are plenty at Ol Donyo Wuas, have a (un)healthy appetite for cattle. Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Afrika itself is a very comfortable small lodge; a place to relax and read a book by the pool as much as to hike to the volcanic crater at the top of the Chyulus, there is no better way to end your day by sipping a nightcap in a very comfortable “star style” bed, falling asleep to the sounds of the African night around you.


    Some of the cottages have extra rooms to accommodate guests and young children.


    Just below the main area but still part of the hillside is an infinity pool, surrounded by voile curtains and scatter cushions. This is the perfect place to while away an afternoon while you get an impromptu view the resident giraffes at the waterhole below. Going down to the waterhole itself is a real treat. Imagine being a hair’s breath away from a giraffe as it comes down for a drink. The open air hide, or “log jam”, as it is called, provides guests with a safe haven where they can comfortably view the wildlife at an exceptionally close range. Outdoor lunches and candlelit dinners are at the order of the day, but nothing beats a bush breakfast or dinner under the African sky. The exclusivity of Ol Donyo Hotel becomes apparent after your first safari excursion. The entire area is reserved for guests and the local Maasai. This is Africa in its purest form. The Big 5 can often be seen around the reserve, but the rhinos can be quite shy and elusive, especially in the thicket. There is no set itinerary, but guests will not have a chance to get bored.


    The Maasai tribes are as much a part of the land as the wildlife, and guests are encouraged to Visit the villages to learn more about the local culture and way of life. Note that the Maasai will charge you a small fee if you want to take photos. Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge features ten standalone lodges, some of which are private accommodations and others are set up for families or small groups. There are three one bedroom lodges, the Asali, Mpiya and the Hide, a multi-level cottage located right next to the waterhole. There are four two bedroom lodges. The Sirra, Myati and El Mau have two bedrooms with private pools that can be used for families or guests that have not met. At certain times of the year when the Maasailand Preservation Trust coordinator is away from the lodge, the Kanga can be used for guests. It has its own dining room, lounge, and waterhole. The Sambu is a four bedroom family lodge with a shared lounge and private swimming pool. Each bedroom has its own en suite bathrooms with stunning views and flush toilets. In addition to the indoor showers and baths, guests can partake in a serene al fresco shower. Each room features private pools, and all rooms (except for the Hide) have a rooftop sundowner spot that also includes star beds for guests that would like to sleep out under the spectacular night sky.


    Ol Donyo Wuas Camp founder Richard Bonham had often flown over this spectacular landscape but one day in the 1980s, he was moved to land his Cessna on the open plains and meet the local Maasai. That was only the first of many meetings, before the birth of a pioneering community conservation tourism project. The concept was simple: Richard brings guests to this remote group ranch to participate in Kenya safaris, and the Maasai share the benefits. But nothing in Africa is that simple, really. And so began a life-long relationship with the Maasai, the wildlife and the ranch. In the early years Richard and his guests would be excited if they even saw the spoor of a passing elephant or lion. Today, after years of working together in a partnership whereby both the wildlife and the people benefit, there are elephant in front of the lodge almost every day. In fact, six bulls with some of the largest ivory in East Africa are regular visitors. Lion and cheetah, which were always present in many numbers, are on the increase and much less elusive. In a world where the last Black rhino was nearly shot to extinction, Mbirikani Group Ranch and the Maasai protect a secure breeding population deep in the Chyulu Hills’ mist forests. John Heminway, one of the most experienced and astute writers about Africa wrote recently in Travel and Leisure: “Richard Bonham could well be the father of the bush guest house. He built Ol Donyo Wuas many years ago and it still sets the standard.” Over the years, Richard and Tara Bonham with Richard’s sister Trish Luke have created one of the most beloved of East Africa’s bush lodges; and in the process, have played an integral leadership role in community conservation in the region. It was agreed, that though progress was being made, the lodge needed a new injection of investment, activities and conservation initiative. And so Great Plains joined the family, together with Richard and Tara, to initiate further possibilities to the benefit of both the Maasai and the wildlife. This will not be without its challenges, as we look to the pressures facing the people and the land. Population is expanding and in turn so is agriculture. The pressures on conservation and wildlife have never been so acute. We recognize that we must adapt and evolve, while working with the Maasai both on Mbirikani Group Ranch and surrounding group ranches to forge new partnerships and innovative thinking. It is the intention and the job, that by building a sustainable model for conservation and tourism, we will uplift our neighboring communities and protect the region’s wildlife. OlDonyo Wuas Lodge and the Maasai people of the Mbirikani Group Ranch are partners in plotting our communal destiny. The Maasailand Preservation Trust manages the partnership. The Trust maintains a series of important projects including The Predator Compensation Fund, Community Game Scouts, Environmental Scouts and education, Lion Guardians and field research, water management and reforestation.


    A visit to Ol Doyo Wuas Lodge is not simply about being a guest; it is about being a participant in community conservation. Each guest contributes to the survival of the region’s flora and fauna, and its noble people, the Maasai. Ol Donyo Wuas is a very diverse experience, so we’ve highlighted some its most special characteristics: With the traditions and history of two decades, but the luxuries of a 21st century rebuild, the lodge is arguably the most impressive in all of Kenya. One of the few properties in Kenya with private villas – a “lodge within a lodge” concept consisting of two suites, private lounge and swimming pool. These villas are designed for extra privacy or for families, groups of friends or multi-generational parties. (Special children safari activities are offered as well). Among the most diverse range of activities in Africa. Included in the all-inclusive rate are: 4×4 game drives; walks with armed guides; half and full-day horseback safaris (with a choice of over 20 quality horses that suit both advanced and novice riders); mountain biking on the open plains; close-up, safe, elephant experiences in the lodges open-air “log-jam” hide; fly camping; romantic roof top “star-beds”; bush breakfasts; dinner under the stars, authentic Maasai cultural visits; tracking with the Bloodhounds, and still more. The all-inclusive rate includes activities, all meals, all local drinks and house wines and laundry. Easy and reliable daily scheduled flights on Safarilink from Nairobi to the lodge’s private airstrip, with convenient onward connections to the Masai Mara, Laikipia and elsewhere. Built more than 20-years ago, Ol Donyo Wuas has established itself as one of eastern Africa’s first bush lodges, and has been recognized as a symbol of authenticity and tradition ever since, this quaint lodge offers guests an experience far from touristy hot-spots and large groups of travelers. While participating in safari to Kenya excursions throughout your stay, you’ll discover everything from insects and reptiles, when you’re not taking part in a game drive or walking safari, you can learn about indigenous plants used for medicinal purposes from the Maasai people during a Maasai cultural visit. After 20 years, Ol Donyo Lodge was starting to look jaded and the decision was made to rebuild rather than to patch. Towards the end of 2007, the old rooms were torn down and a fresh, new Ol Donyo reopened in July 2008 to enthusiastic reviews. Today, Ol Donyo has a total of 22 beds in seven stand alone cottages. The seven individual cottages are built with local materials.


    Ol Donyo Wuas Safari Lodge Accommodation


    8 cottages are each defined by a unique character; with the emphasis on comfort and privacy. The architecture is uniquely African and the cottages were constructed using only local materials. The lodge has featured in leading European and African architecture journals. All cottages have a veranda with panoramic views of the plains and Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Ol Donyo Wuas also focuses on development and eco-tourism, forming the Maasailand Preservation Trust in 1992 to build schools, health clinics and also to oversee the training of 86 community game scouts in the Tsavo/Amboseli ecosystem. The cottages have en suite bathrooms, with solar power lighting and hot showers. Wood burning stoves serve as as a back ups. Two of the cottages have an additional bedroom for guests traveling with children. 300 000 acres of wildlife lies stretched out in Ol Donyo Wuas, with only the one fence that surrounds the lodge to keep the wildlife out. 7000 head of resident wildlife and the Big Five roam within the 300 000 acres. A resident herd of elephant roam near the lodge. 71 species of mammals have been identified around Ol Donyo Wuas, including the Oryx, Eland, Gerenuk, Lesser Kudu, Giraffe, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Jackal, Hyena, and Bat-eared Foxes. 333 species of birds, 1030 species of plants, 28 species of reptiles and 68 species of butterflies have so far been recorded in the Chyulu Hills. Activities include night and day game viewing from open landrovers. Horse riding on the open plains or through the misty forests, walking and hiking, are some other activities that involve you closely with the bush. The waterhole lies just below the swimming pool, giving you unlimited game views while you take a dip in the gorgeous pool. Ol Donyo Wuas has recently been Highly Commended for the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards for our community projects and Eco-friendly practices.


    Ol Donyo Wuas Safari Lodge Meals


    The breadth and depth of Ol Donyo Lodge's living and dining area is absolutely awe-inspiring. The entire main area is set high on the hillside, and opens completely to the plains below, with Mount Kilimanjaro ever present in the distance. The use of stone, thatch and wood make for a very tactile experience, which fills the senses. The magnificent iron-ore chandeliers coupled with grand fireplace provide a warm glow, accented by the rich earth tones. Arched doorways, indoor gardens, bronze sculptures, Zanzibar wood doors, Victorian furniture and romantic prose grace the space. Al fresco lunches on the verandah and or candlelit dinners in the main dining room are wonderful, but we also enjoy hosting breakfasts in the plains and dinners under the African sky; or surprise sundowners and classic English tea in the romantic setting of the bush. Finally, it's a night cap around the cozy outdoor fireplace to round out another perfect day in Africa. Just below the main area, but also on the hillside is a breathtaking infinity pool, complete with a private lounge and dining area. With views of the lodge’s famous waterhole and luxurious voile curtains and cushions, it's the perfect place to while away the afternoon. There is a range of activities available – from cultural visits, good quality wildlife viewing and tracking, horseback riding and mountain biking, In-room massages.


    Horseback Riding on Safari


    The expansive open spaces at Ol Donyo Wuas provide an outstanding setting for horseback rides and walks. Horseback riding safari is a specialty with Ride Kenya stables on site, they can do excellent three hour trail rides for novices or operate full on multi-day riding safaris with mobile camping for experts. Most of the horses are thoroughbreds but they had an excellent power horse, Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris boasts access to one of the largest expanses of Africa. Extending through an awe-inspiring range of ecosystems – from the dry lakebeds of Amboseli in the east and to the majestic Chyulu Hills in the west – this is quintessential East Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro rises in the distance providing watch over our explorations. But how did this all come to be? It may seem to be a fairytale, but for Patrick Stanton and Nicola Young, it is reality. The intrepid duo envisioned taking their love of horses to the African bush. After meeting as students in Connecticut, American-born Patrick and UK-born Nicola set their sights on conducting horse safaris in Africa. An introduction to Richard Bonham, owner of ol Donyo Lodge at the time, proved to be just the right match. And after a few years of setting up the stable, including many trips to southern Africa to obtain the absolute best retinue of horses, Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris was ready to go. That was in 2006 and since then; Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris has grown into an entity all its own, offering day trips for guests of ol Donyo Lodge as well as multi-day mobile horse safaris. Nicola and Patrick are true experts in their field, and under their guidance, Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris has become internationally recognized for its professionalism and extraordinary experiences. Joining Patrick and Nicola is Kimani Davy, a young Kenyan man who has grown up riding horses, including competitions and extensive overland safaris.


    Kimani is a 'jack of all trades' as well, often seen fixing vehicles at one point and then doctoring and training horses the next followed by cooking over the fire. There are two options to participate with Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris’: half-day or full day rides from ol Donyo Lodge, or join a multi day guaranteed set departure luxury mobile horse safari to the Amboseli or within the Chyulu Hills environs. The latter operate independently of oI Donyo Lodge and are managed and guided by Patrick or Nicola. Ride Kenya Mobile Horse Safaris’ herd of over 25 very well schooled horses are fit to handle many variables depending on the terrain, the wildlife and all experience levels of rider, although intermediate to advanced riders are only confirmed on our multi day guaranteed set departure luxury mobile horse safaris. The typical day on one of our multi day guaranteed set departure horse safaris consists of about four to seven hours in the saddle, covering a distance between 15 – 30 miles depending on terrain and sightings. We also offer riders the chance to enjoy game drives, bush walks and night game drives during their mobile safari. Many of Ride Kenya’s Mobile Horse Safari guests enjoy a night or two at ol Donyo Lodge either before or after their safari. This is an excellent add-on to our set departure safari itineraries.


    The "Log-Jam" Hide


    Imagine being at eye-level with one of Ol Donyo Wuas' 100-pound tusker elephants, or looking at the knobby knees of a giraffe, all while sitting peacefully and absorbing the intimacy of this precious moment. It is a privilege. This is Ol Donyo Wuas' "log-jam" hide, a mass of heavy logs piled about five feet high and 3 feet thick, where guests are able to safely view wildlife at exceptionally close range at the lodge's waterhole. After a visit to the hide, guests learn so much about the wildlife, and elephants in particular, as they are able to watch interactions and movements closely. It is almost like briefly being a part of the herd. The "log-jam" hide, located just a short walk from the lodge's main area, can be a short activity at mid-day, or it can be a full half-day activity. This lodge is particularly family friendly and is perhaps the ideal location for multi generational family safari holidays with plenty to suit all age groups. Ol Donyo Lodge can be combined in a superb flying safari circuit with Rekero Camp or Il Moran Camp in Maasai Mara and a few days in Kinondo Kwetu in South coast.


    Day trips to Amboseli


    Our proximity to Amboseli National Park gives the opportunity for full day safari to Amboseli. Guests depart the lodge after breakfast for a leisurely drive across the plains and through small villages. We usually arrive at the park in the mid-morning and depart in the mid-afternoon. We have selected this time of day as it coincides with the time when the guests from the large lodges are on siesta, and vehicle density is at its lowest. This is also the time when the elephant and plains game congregate around the waterways and marshes in high density. This excursion can only be guaranteed in advance, please book it at the time of reservation. It is subject to additional cost. We operate where possible on an all-inclusive tariff where everything at the lodge is included. The exceptions to this are the Amboseli excursion and the Amboseli Park entry fees and massages. The Maasai villagers will charge individuals for having their photos taken, but the cost of getting there is included in the tariff.


    Ol Donyo Wuas Safari Lodge Conservation


    The Maasailand Preservation Trust was founded in 1992 by Richard Bonham in response to the increasing conflict between the ecosystem and its human inhabitants. Its main focus is to provide the Maasai people with financial and other critically important benefits in return for conserving wildlife and habitat. A pioneering project that has been very successful is the Predator Compensation Scheme. Maasai pastoralists around Amboseli have for the first time agreed not to kill predators in retaliation when a lion, cheetah, leopard, or hyena kill their livestock. Instead they are now financially compensated for their losses. Every livestock animal killed by a predator results in an agreed cash compensation for the owner. Agreements and contracts have been signed with Maasai communities over an area of over a million acres. This project has been so successful that the predator slaughter and population decline has stopped. But the financial costs are high. Ol Donyo Wuas, via its affiliated trusts, now spends between $100,000 and $200,000 a year to compensate the communities for any livestock killed around Ol Donyo Wuas and on the tribal lands that surround Amboseli. he trust has also worked in close collaboration with local communities on 1) improving health care and education, 2) using game scouts to combat game meat poaching and resolve human-wildlife conflict, 3) monitoring of highly endangered species, such as the Chyulu Black Rhino, and 4) conserving habitat through reforestation and natural resource management. in its battle against poachers, Ol Donyo Wuas is one of the few places that makes highly successful use of bloodhounds for tracking.


    An equally significant conservation program at Ol Donyo Wuas is the partnering with the neighboring community to create a new wildlife conservancy and sanctuary that will guarantee the safety of wildlife while simultaneously uplifting the local Maasai community. The community will lease land to Ol Donyo Wuas to create a new conservancy. In return, Ol Donyo Wuas will guarantee payments each quarter to some 4500 rural Maasai families who earn little or no other revenue besides what they can earn from their livestock. The first phase of this program is to create a conservancy of over 22,000 acres. An agreement has been struck in principal and the plan ultimately is to enlarge this to 70,000 acres, once Ol Donyo Wuas’s occupancies and revenues increase. This will create wildlife migration corridors that will link up old migration routes between Amboseli, Tsavo, and Chyulu parks. Besides the obvious benefit of creating a wildlife conservancy, the project will ensure that money gets paid largely to families. “The aim of this form of payment policy is to ensure that the lowest strata of Maasai society in the region receive direct financial benefits from wildlife and the creation of the conservancy – and in particular that the women and families have the opportunity to earn money themselves. Studies have shown that once the women are involved in the community’s finances, their families and that of the community at large have the best chance of upliftment.”


    Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge Fly Camping


    East Africa is classic safari country and it would be a shame for guests to visit Kenya without experiencing a night out under canvas with traditional camp amenities, drinks under the open sky by the fire followed by our superb campfire cuisine. Ol Donyo Wuas Lodge campsites are chosen based on the season, so your camp may be out on the plains or up in the Chyulu hills, and you can choose to get to your fly camp on horseback, by vehicle or the way the explorer's did - on foot. Seduction Rock is a famous overnight spot (and we are led to believe that it always works!) 8.5 hour international flight to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta Airport, then its 30 minute by road to Wilson Domestic Airport. Scheduled flights from Nairobi’s Wilson airport to Ol Donyo Lodge airstrip take about 1 hour. On arrival at the airfield, the vehicle transfer to the lodge is approximately 30 minutes, allowing time for game viewing.


    Tsavo National Park


    Tsavo National Park covers an area of 20,807sq km and is Kenya's largest wildlife stronghold. The park is bisected by the main Nairobi - Mombasa road and railway. The portion lying north of the road is known as Tsavo East and the portion to the south, Tsavo West. Tsavo East is the larger of the two covering just over 12,000sq km although much of the area north of the Galana River is closed to the public. The Southern section of the park is very accessible with a good network of dusty tracks. Certain sections around the Voi Gate can be pretty busy with traffic but the park is so vast that it is possible in other areas to drive several hours without seeing another vehicle. The terrain is not as varied as in West Tsavo but switches between open plains, semi arid acacia scrub and woodlands. The most scenic section is along the Galana River which flows throughout the year and provides a corridor of lush greenery amongst a frequently harsh and arid landscape. At Lugard Falls the entire river disappears into a rocky grove so narrow that it is possible to stand astride the cleft with the Falls immediately below. Tsavo is not a reserve to come and tick off large numbers of big game. Rather, it is about relaxing and enjoying the animals and birds in a true wilderness. Elephants in big herds are possibly the main attraction of the park with many converging on the rivers and waterholes to drink in the dry season. Many of these elephants are "red", and this unusual colour is created by taking dust baths in the brick red earth. Lions are not uncommon and it is also a good park to see lesser kudu as well as buffalo, common waterbuck, eland, gerenuk, fringe-eared oryx, impala and Maasai giraffe. Over five hundred species of birds have been recorded including the saddle billed stork, martial eagle and the violet wood hoopoe.


    Chyulu Hills Park


    One of Kenya’s least-visited, least-developed national parks, the Chyulu Hills are a geologically recent lava ridge with plenty of game in the woodland savannah on the western, lower slopes, including eland, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, elephant and buffalo. Deep in the lava fields there are also a few wild black rhinos, closely guarded by rangers. On the western slopes, there’s a stunning place to stay, Ol Donyo Lodge, where bush walks and riding are on offer. The crest of the hills is another world, partly swathed in mossy cloud forest, where giant forest hogs barge through the undergrowth watched by goggle-eyed chameleons and spectacularly large, silvery-cheeked hornbills. Other highland forest birds that can be encountered here include the Abyssinian crimsonwing and a partly terrestrial pigeon – the lemon or cinnamon dove. Chyulu Hills National Park is an extension of Tsavo West National Park. Chyulu Hills are a volcanic mountain range situated between Amboseli and Tsavo West and covers an area of 741 square kilometers. Chyulu Hills National Park stands at an altitude of 1,500 – 2,160 meters above sea level and is located in Makueni District, south-east of Nairobi about 230 kilometers away or a 5 hours drive by road. Chyulu Hills National Park Safari Hotels, Lodges and Hotels include Campi Ya Kanzi, Tsavo West Finch Hattons Camp, Tsavo West Kilaguni Lodge Serena Lodge, Tsavo West Ngulia Safari Lodge. Others include Tsavo West Ol Donyo Wuas, Tsavo West Salt Lick Lodge – Taita Hills Sanctuary, Tsavo West Severin Safari Camp, Taita Hills Lodge – Taita Hills Sanctuary, Tsavo West Voyager Ziwani Safari Camp and Tsavo West Man Eaters Camp.


    Amboseli National Park


    Amboseli National Park is Land of Giants, this is a place of wide dry plains, where the horizons stretch into the furthest distance your eyes can see and become one with the sky. Amboseli offers an interesting contrast in appearance; it has a somewhat dry and dusty appearance, which can be attributed to the volcanic ash that came out of Mt Kilimanjaro when it last erupted. Mt Kilimanjaro, in fact, is located just about 25 miles away. However, in spite of the appearance, there is a continuous supply of water that gets filtered through volcanic rocks from Kilimanjaro melted snow. These streams flow underground, creating lush green areas, and converge at two clear water springs in the park. Amboseli National Park the Maasai’s “Place of Dust”, is a small and very popular wildlife park, and often full of visitors. Scenically, however, it is redeemed by the stunning spectacle of Kilimanjaro towering over it and – in those clichéd but irresistible photos taken with telephoto lenses – appearing almost to fill the sky. In the right light, the snowy massif, washed coral and orange, is devastatingly beautiful. Sunrise and sunset are the most likely times to see the mountain, especially during the rainy season when the air is much clearer, but for the most part it remains tantalizingly shrouded in a thick shawl of cloud. The earliest humans in the Amboseli region were hunter-gatherers, who had the plains, swamps and woodlands to themselves until the Bantu-speaking Chagga and Kamba peoples began to arrive from the highlands at some point around 1500 years ago. By the early 17th century, the first Maasai cattle herders had arrived in the region, having moved south from the flood plains of the upper Nile over the previous century.


    The first European visitor in the Amboseli region was the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson, who walked through in 1883. The remarkably sensitive travels of the young Thomson (he was aged just 25) covered a huge portion of southern Kenya as far west as Lake Victoria, with his 150-strong column. It was always claimed that nobody had ever lost their life on a Thomson safari, unlike the violent behavior of so many of those who followed the trails he blazed. Although a German missionary, Johann Rebmann, had given an account of snow-capped Kilimanjaro in 1848, Thomson was the first person to provide a written record of what was then known as the Njiri Plain. On the northwest side he found Lake Amboseli entirely dry – its usual state even today – with mineral salts encrusting its surface and shimmering in the heat. The Southern Maasai Reserve, a vast region stretching from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro and west to the Mara River, was created in 1899 in an attempt to confine the nomadic Maasai to a region that wasn’t of interest to colonial settlers intent on farming. In 1948, the colonial government established the Amboseli Reserve, this time focusing more on the wildlife, but acknowledging the rights of Maasai pastoralists to graze and water their herds in this important wetland.


    The region came under Maasai control through Kajiado District Council in 1961, but encroachment, booming population and a rise in tourism prompted President Jomo Kenyatta to withdraw local control and put the area in the hands of the National Parks service in 1974. As a result, Amboseli National Park became a total exclusion zone for the Maasai community, who were evicted and prevented from using the swamps to water their cattle. Ironically, far from protecting the wildlife, the relatively small new national park (just 400km²) so enraged the local community that first the area’s magnificent, long-horned black rhinos and then most of its lions were wiped out as the excluded herders retaliated with spears. Amboseli has been a high-profile bellwether for human-wildlife relations in Kenya ever since, although the balance is much healthier these days as local communities increasingly recognise the value of the wildlife ‘resource’ in attracting tourists and bringing them an income. This is particularly important where the Maasai are involved directly through leasing their own land as community conservancies around the fringes of the national park to safari operators and taking jobs at safari camps. Although the dominant presence of Kilimanjaro marks the southern horizon and seems to fill half the sky the whole time you’re in the Amboseli ecosystem, the region has a number of other important landmarks and features that provide orientation and variety to game drives.


    The obvious place to start is the small kopje known as Observation Hill, just to the west of Lake Kioko. Parking at the bottom you’re allowed to walk to the top, from where you can gaze across the whole park and can often see past the fringing reeds to the resident hippos in the lake. Looking northwest, the flat, dusty plain is ‘Lake Amboseli’ very occasionally rain-filled zone that occupies the northwest corner of the park. Some 5km to the east, the human ‘reserve’ of Ol Tukai, in the centre of the park, is the fenced location of Amboseli’s park headquarters, the big Ol Tukai Lodge, and the currently mothballed Amboseli Lodge. If you’re in need of a comfort break, a cold drink or another leg stretch, drivers will often pause a game drive to take a break here. The Amboseli region’s artificial divisions start with the Amboseli National Park itself. Bordering the park to the west is the Kitirua Game Conservancy, with the luxury Tortilis Camp, Between the south-west side of the national park and the Tanzanian borders lies the exclusive 120km² Kitirua Conservancy, lcoation of Tortilis Camp, named after the flat-topped Acacia tortilis umbrella thorn tree, common to the area. From here, you have access both to Amboseli National Park’s famous elephant swamps and to the grazing and predator lands of Kitirua, which can only be visited by Tortilis guests. A fair way north of the park, commonly accessed by road transfer from Amboseli airstrip, lies the quite remote Selenkay Conservancy, location of Porini Camp, North of Amboseli proper, the Selenkay Conservancy is a beautiful stretch of woodland, stream margin and open plains offers promise where the total-exclusion model of the national parks sometimes seems to be stuck in conflict. Jake Grieves-Cook, a former game warden and head of the Kenya Tourist Board, visited this area as a young man in the 1970s when it was teeming with wildlife. Returning in the 1990s, he found the wildlife decimated, elephants absent and the environment degraded by livestock over-grazing. He met the Maasai elders and discussed setting up a wildlife conservancy on their land to create a protected habitat to bring back the wildlife and generate an income for the community. The Selenkay Conservancy was the result, and a wide variety of wildlife has now returned here, including good numbers of elephants that had not been seen for 20 years. You can visit Selenkay by staying at Porini Amboseli Camp. On the southeast side of the park, closer to Kilimanjaro than anywhere else in the region, lies Elerai Conservancy and Satao Elerai Camp.


    There are two reasons to visit Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, one, to witness the extraordinary view of Mount Kilimanjaro and two to see the magnificent population of elephants, The Amboseli ecosystem is unique: No other place in Africa combines its special hydrology, topography, geological and cultural history. Despite modest rainfall, a system of swamps fed by the Kilimanjaro mountain forest catchment supports a spectacular array of birds and mammals, dominated in terms of biomass and visibility by a population of some 1,500 African elephants. Overlaid on the Trans boundary (Kenya and Tanzania) landscape is a traditional system of nomadic pastoralism practiced by the Maasai people, whose faith and pride in their own culture is impressively steadfast in the face of rapid social and economic development. This cultural identity has ensured Amboseli remains largely unfenced and undeveloped, so that wildlife continues to move across the 8,000 square kilometers in response to rainfall and food availability. Amboseli National Park lies at the heart of this ecosystem, covering just 392km 2 but containing the vital life-supporting swamps. In recognition of Amboseli’s special combination of ecology and culture, UNESCO and the Government of Kenya designated the region a Man and the Biosphere reserve in 1991 to conserve its biodiversity, contribute to the development of the local human population and improve the local infrastructure in support of education and research. The elephants of Amboseli have been the focus of a long research project run by the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Founded in 1975 by Cynthia Moss, who had met elephant researcher Iain Douglas-Hamilton in Tanzania a few years earlier, the trust has become one of the most important elephant research centers in the world. It was here that elephants’ infrasonic communications (‘tummy rumbles’) were first recorded and studied and where the true complexity of their social structures and inter-personal relationships and the sophistication of their cognitive abilities, were revealed. The Amboseli Trust for Elephants is a not-for-profit trust registered in Kenya and the USA (501c3). ATE’s operational focus is in Amboseli National Park and the surrounding ecosystem; its influence reaches out to elephant conservation, management and policy-setting worldwide. ATE has an administrative, fund-raising and advocacy office in the United States, a program management office in Nairobi, and a field research office and camp in Amboseli national park. The Nairobi office provides a base for administration, project support and field support. AERP, the Amboseli Elephant Research Project is the Trust’s research arm. Since 1972 AERP has studied the Amboseli elephants, making it today one of the longest studied populations of free living large mammals in the world. AECT, the African Elephant Conservation Trust, is an endowment fund established in the USA. The long-term objective of AECT is to initiate, support and ensure the continuation of key elephant research projects across the African continent modeled on the ATE philosophy and research methodology. In time, income from the endowment can used to fully fund the work of ATE and AERP and enable the field researchers focus their energies on their project and relieve them of the burden of continued fund raising. AERP’s unparalleled body of knowledge will thus be made available to those addressing issues such as land use, wildlife education, protected area management, and the consequences of human population expansion. Since its inception in 1972, AERP has monitored the Amboseli elephants, identifying all the elephants in the population and collecting data on births, deaths and behaviour. Today, as a result, AERP is the critical source of baseline data on elephants. Ensuring the survival of the elephant in today’s Africa is an increasingly complex problem. The ivory trade – legal and illegal – and the tremendous increase in human population in Africa have taken a serious toll. In 1979, there were estimated to be 1.3 million elephants in Africa; ten years later, there were only about 600,000. In Kenya alone, the elephant population plummeted from 130,000 in 1973 to less than 20,000 in 1989, a loss of 85%.


    The reason for this catastrophic decline: the ivory trade. The combination of growing human populations and resulting loss of wildlife habitat has exacerbated wildlife-human conflict, creating yet another threat to the future of the elephant. The elephant population in Amboseli National Park is one of the few that has been able to live a relatively undisturbed existence in natural conditions. This rare situation is primarily due to two factors – the presence of researchers and tourists in the park, and the support of the local Maasai people. In the absence of poaching and culling, the Amboseli elephant population has been increasing slowly since the late 1970s. Amboseli is, therefore, one of the few places in Africa where the elephant age structure has not been drastically skewed and the population spans the whole range from newborn calves to old matriarchs in their 60s and, even more unusual, many large adult bulls in their 40s and 50s. Realistic solutions to the problems facing Africa’s elephants can be developed only with the help of comprehensive long-term research studies. Studies in Amboseli have provided unique and critical information on elephant birth rates, death rates, ranging patterns and nutritional needs, illuminated by analyses of their underlying determining factors. But the studies have also revealed much more: that elephants communicate at a very sophisticated level; that they celebrate birth, have lifelong friendships and appear to mourn the death of family members. Research has shown them to be highly intelligent with the ability to reason and problems solve and have provided a window onto their complex social structure. These discoveries made in Amboseli have altered the way in which conservationists approach the management of elephant populations. What was once viewed as just a herd must now be respected as a family. What was once seen as ivory on the hoof must be recognized as a matriarch whose accumulated knowledge can keep her family alive in times of drought or famine. The magnificent bull with 100-pound tusks is a male in his reproductive prime who should be passing on his genes for health and longevity, not gracing the trophy room of a sport hunter. The Amboseli wetlands are the dominant features of the park, with the Enkongo Narok swamp and its central feature, Lake Kioko, the main focus in the western part of the park, and the Longinye Swamp the big wildlife magnet in the east. These permanent swamps are fed by meltwater from the peaks of Kilimanjaro, which soaks into the volcanic rock and springs up from the plains all year round. After the rains, a carpet of pasture fills the plains in between, but for much of the year the swamps with their sedges, water lilies and papyrus provide a brilliant contrast with the dry plains. Much of the park’s vegetation is low, but to the south of the wetland areas, towards Kilimanjaro, there’s more woodland, with yellow-barked acacia and several other species of trees providing browsing for hundreds of Maasai giraffe and cover for hunting lion and cheetah. If giraffe are a frequent subject for Kili-backed photos, it’s the park’s celebrated, big-tusked elephants that stand out as number-one subjects for most visitors. Largely untouched by poaching, Amboseli’s swamp-loving elephants, slate-grey with heavy swamp clay, and sometimes wearing incongrous wreathes of plant matter, number around 1500 individuals in more than 40 herds, most of them led by matriarchs. Although most of southern Kenya’s plains wildlife can be seen at Amboseli – including Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, buffalo, hartebeest, eland and waterbuck – the most numerous animals of the open plains are wildebeest and Burchell’s zebra. Still to some extent migratory, mixed herds of both species move across the savannah with the seasons, between the Tanzanian plains west of Kilimanjaro and the Kajiado plains north of Amboseli. Following the scent of new grazing, and concentrating near the Amboseli swamps at the end of the dry seasons, they calve and foal early in the year, before the first of the long rains in March. Out in the drier areas, which are inhospitable to many species, you’ll see fringe-eared oryx and gerenuk. With a few years of tolerance from the local communities, the Amboseli predators, with their relatively quick generational cycles, have made a rapid comeback, and our recent visits have revealed good sightings of lions and hyenas, although cheetah have proved more elusive. Bird counts in Amboseli can be astonishing: there are reckoned to be as many as 400 species present in this small park, including native rarities like the Madagascar squacco heron and the Taveta golden weaver (relatively common at camps and lodges around the park) as well as Palearctic migrants such as the Caspian plover. The water birds are the highlights, and in many areas the park’s tracks follow close to the water’s edge, allowing you great sightings of specialities like the long-toed lapwing and rufous-bellied heron – if you can take your eyes of the elephants in the swamp. Rainy Season: The long hot and humid rainy period starts around April and lasts until June and then the short rains come during the warm months of November and December. Dry Season: January through to March are hot and dry, while July to October are warm and dry. The warm dry season is the best for game viewing and for personal comfort.


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