4 January 2014

Kenya: Amboseli Jumbos - the Governors of the Bush

The main attraction in Amboseli National Park happens to be the huge herds of elephants. The total area of Amboseli is just shy of 400 square kilometers.

With the proper forest density and enough foliage, the area can only support around 300 elephants. But having lost most of the acacia forest that existed barely 20 years ago, Amboseli can hardly support the 300 elephants that the total area is supposed to hold.

I would like you to imagine what is happening now, that the population has hit the 1300 mark! But that can only worry the local scientists and the animal lovers who constantly grace the park, and have seen the massive growth of the pachyderms.

For a normal tourist, the number of elephants in Amboseli will only make the park an interesting place to visit. To them, it is the only place on earth with the highest concentration of elephants.

It is the only place in the world where it is possible to see over five hundred elephants in a two hour game drive. The elephants and the elusive Kilimanjaro are the prime reason a tourist will include a two-day excursion to Amboseli. So why are we so fascinated by the mere mention of an elephant?

Elephants are the largest mammals on land.

A fully grown elephant can weigh to the excess of 5,000 kilogrammes. It is usually a great honour to stand next to the world giants and listen to their heartbeats only a stone throw away.

Too close would be dangerous. Too far would not have the desired impact in size comparison. But you can have both in Amboseli.

I had been waiting for that moment when the elephants would arrive from the mountain side to the swamps. Being a constant visitor in Amboseli, I have discovered their favourite paths that they must use daily to get to the lush greenery of the swamp. They always arrived in a single file, being led by the matriarch.

They walk as in slow motion, yet the advance is surprisingly fast. In dry season, you notice the dust first, and then the gigantic creatures appear from the horizon trading ever so lightly on the ground, as if they are carrying the world on their shoulders.

When there is no dust, they appear like a giant black snake slithering slowly towards the swamp.

It is their shiny white tusks that give them away as elephants. Otherwise one can easily confuse them with the shadows of the umbrella shaped acacia tortilis trees.

They finally arrived at the point on the road where I had been waiting. The feeling was out of this world when they passed five metres from where I had parked the car.

Never showing the slightest interest in our presence, the elephants dwarfed my van in such a manner as to make me feel embarrassed being in their midst.

I thought I could see arrogance in the way they looked at us, and how they changed their walking style. They seemed to understand and enjoy their status in the world order of mega faunas.

What they did not understand is that, less than 50,000 years ago, larger and heavier animals existed on land. Then they were gone. The bigger they get, the harder they fall.

It is still not crystal clear what happened during the late ice age that killed the mammoths or the Jurassic era of mass extinctions. Some school of thought has it that there was a sudden change of climate that was so fast that the giants could not have had time to cope.

The slow introduction of new members into the population made sure that the ratio of births and deaths was completely out of count. As I watched the last one in the line pass by, I wondered loudly. "How much longer shall we enjoy your presence sir?"

As it is, man has been mentioned to have contributed to the extinction of mammoths. As the environment changes for the large animals, man is able to use his ingenious mind to manipulate nature to his advantage regardless of whether other species will suffer in the process. Extinction is a process. It still goes on as we live.

Some animals somewhere, are on the way out, others are on the way in. Others are insisting on staying, even when their era is long gone. If you hear the bell ringing, I am happy for you.

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