Amboseli is one of Kenya’s smaller national parks but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in topography and wildlife sightings. In fact, you could argue that its diminutive stature is a blessing when it comes to game viewing: the animals are fairly contained, there are plenty of natural water sources and the roads are extensive, a bonus because off-roading is not allowed except in the few private concessions.
We travelled to Amboseli in November, traditionally a time of the ‘short rains’. For roughly a month, clouds build all day and break into spectacular afternoon showers. The result is sheer abundance: of grass, greenery, babies and birds. If you do travel in November, pack everything from shorts and flip-flops to a fleece: it can get very chilly if you’re out on a late afternoon game drive and the rain starts. Vehicles in Kenya are inevitably closed and have roofs, and most have a supply of shukas (traditional Kenyan clothes in the iconic scarlet) that are extremely cosy.
Peek-a-boo! This baby vervet monkey was extremely curious about our vehicle but its mother made sure to position herself between us and her baby. This is common wild animal behaviour: elephants are especially good at forming a shield around the little ones.
Go2Africa safari Expert Bonita got a close-up of this very relaxed elephant. Your guide will always be watching the animals’ behaviour – if an elephant seems agitated (mock charging, vigorous ear flapping) or is a bull in musth (heightened testosterone levels that are indicated by the ‘tears’ or fluid ‘weeping’ from their eyes) – he or she will ensure that the vehicle is positioned well away from them.
This little one was loving her mud bath. When the mud hardens, it cracks and falls off, taking parasites like ticks and fleas with it. Notice the ubiquitous cattle egret hovering to take advantage of any ticks that survive the soaking (and the flowers on the elephant’s back).
Very small baby elephants do sometimes get stuck in the heavy, viscous mud. The herd will gather to rescue them if possible – in one famous incident, a rhino used its horn to lift the baby ellie out of the deep mud and deposit it on the riverbank!
More mud bathing! The short rains in November means large tracts of Amboseli become muddy. The long rains from about March to April often turn the large dry plain into a verdant lake. This elephant has unusual ‘crossed’ tusks that may make it difficult for it to defend itself or forage. Ivory, unlike rhino horn, doesn’t regrow so a lost or broken tusk puts an elephant at a disadvantage.
This side-striped jackal had found the discarded head of some other predator’s prey in typically opportunistic fashion. Jackals can be hard to spot because they are so well camouflaged – look out for the tell-tale ‘bob and weave’ way they trot through the thicket.
A very unusual sighting: we saw two adult bat-eared foxes as we left Tortilis Camp for our morning game drive. As usual, they were shy and skittish, and didn’t hang around to check us out. When we returned, we couldn’t believe our luck: all five of their puppies had emerged from their nearby den and were suckling their mother! Find the photo here. Tortilis is in a private concession so there is very little other traffic on the road, possibly one reason they felt safe enough to emerge into the sunlight.
Go2Africa Safari Experts Tracy and Rikke face off with a massive spotted hyena on the open plain (even though it was November and technically summer, it was cool enough to wear scarves and windbreakers). It soon became clear why this one was patrolling: there was a den of puppies nearby (hyenas are neither canine nor feline – they’re in their own family – so there is debate about whether their babies are cubs or pups).
And there they are! Old enough to be out their den but young enough to still be mostly black before their characteristic spots emerge. This photo shows an extraordinary moment: an eagle passed overhead, and the pups instinctively and automatically immediately ran back into their den when they saw its shadow. A large raptor can easily pick up a newborn hyena – it was fascinating to see how quickly they responded to a threat.
Dik-diks are so small that they’re often hard to see in the thicket they live in – they can weigh as little as three kilograms or seven pounds even when fully grown. Their name comes from the alarm call that the female makes when she spots a predator. They’re very nervous and shy so be sure to work quickly with your camera if you’re lucky enough to see one.
Even though November is a rainy season, the rain is localised and your guide can often ‘drive around’ cloudbursts. It is amazing to see heavy downfalls in the distance while you are perfectly dry. The rain washes the air of dust, making for clearer, crisper photographs. For other advantages to travelling in the rainy or green season, click here.
Tracy enjoying the view of localised rain over the dry plain during a sundowners stop with Tortilis Camp.
This magnificent pelican took off at sunset, giving us this beautiful picture. Amboseli is well supplied with streams that run off nearby Mount Kilimanjaro, making it a haven for waterbirds. Birds can be tricky to photograph if you’re not a professional – here are our best tips for snapping birds on your safari.