Rain in Amboseli
Posted Saturday, June 2 2012 at 00:00
It’s the month of May. For most of it, Africa’s tallest mountain has stood invisible in a blanket of fat white clouds and a first-time visitor would have been excused for thinking that there’s nothing beyond the veneer. But the long-awaited rains have finely come.
In celebration, the grasses are verdant green, the tortilis acacias are blooming and wild flowers colour the glades white and yellow.
Amboseli’s signature dust-devils are absent, for the fine dust is sodden with rain and too heavy to rise in the sun.
Empusel, as the Maasai call the salty, dusty plains ( and from which the word ‘Amboseli’ is derived) is relishing the rains.
Kitavi Kaloki, the Kenya Wildlife Service tourism warden, points to areas he knows well.
The thick grove of tortilis trees not far from the Kimana gate is the abode of the elusive leopard that only a few have seen.
A handsome tawny eagle is resting on the lower branch of the tree where in my mind’s eye I picture the spotted cat which survives in the widest range of habitats – from the Himalayan heights to the deserts of the Namib.
Maasai ostriches with pink necks stroll leisurely, pecking for food.
Past the forest, is the savannah grass plain – flat and wide – that is perfect for the cheetah’s chase, essential for it to hunt.
“Our researchers estimate that there are 40 cheetahs in the greater Amboseli ecosystem but the leopard numbers are uncertain,” Kaloki tells me.
Puddles fill the depressions where Amboseli’s famous elephants submerge themselves.
Of the 1,500, only a few are in the park while the rest have dispersed outside because there’s water and grass everywhere. This is giving the park time to regenerate.
Soon we reach the lake that’s famous for being infamous. Its noxious salt pan allows nothing to survive on it.
But its stunning mirages during the dry spells attract thousands of animals – some to lick the salts and others to quench their thirst, fooled by the sparkling glitter of sand.
Muddy water laps the shoreline and a flotilla of snow-white pelicans create a border on the furthest edge of the lake.
Closer, it’s the Egyptian geese and other waders enjoying the treat. The 360-degree-panorama from the lake that usually has the massifs floating on its mirages is clear against the pearly grey sky.
In the shadow of the invisible Kilimanjaro is Mount Meru in Tanzania, followed by the Namanga Hills in Kenya, the pyramidical hill at Sultan Hamud pointing north and then the grand Chyulus, one of the youngest ranges on earth.