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Amboseli National Park

About 900 elephants live in Amboseli National Park.Amboseli National Park, where Cynthia Moss studies elephant families, covers 150 square miles in southern Kenya, near the Tanzanian border. The name Amboseli comes from the word "empusel," which in the language of the local Masai tribe means "salty dust." Amboseli is indeed dusty, mostly because of its proximity to Mt. Kilimanjaro, a 19,340-foot-high snowy volcanic peak that lies just 25 miles away. From the time the mountain first emerged, between two and four million years ago, Kilimanjaro has periodically erupted -- probably as recently as within the last 10,000 years, scientists say -- and covered the area with dusty volcanic ash.

Amboseli is nevertheless quite lush in places, because the melting snows of Kilimanjaro flow underground into the park, continually feeding water to springs, swamps, and marshes. Because of this easy availability of water, Amboseli has always been a favorite spot for wildlife. In addition to the 900 or so elephants that live there, zebra, wildebeests, giraffes, impala, leopards, lions, hippos, antelope, rhinos, wild dogs, hyenas, cheetah, buffalo, and more than 400 species of birds all gather in the haven of the park.

Of course, where wildlife goes, humans often follow. The local Masai tribespeople have lived in the Amboseli region, generally in harmony with the wildlife, for more than 400 years. Nearly a century ago, in 1899, the British government, which then governed what would become Kenya, decided that the area's wealth of wildlife ought to be protected and named it an official game reserve.

Amboseli National Park 

Mt. Kilimanjaro looms over Amboseli.

By the 1930s, the area was very popular with hunters, photographers, and filmmakers. In 1974, the government of the now independent nation of Kenya designated it Amboseli National Park, setting aside the land exclusively for wildlife and tourism. The Masai, the ancestral inhabitants of the land, were sent to live outside the new park's boundaries.

This was a tense compromise, and some Masai speared elephants and rhinos in political protest. Even so, the Masai have always been very protective of their local wildlife, and do not tolerate any poaching of elephants by outsiders. So the elephants of Amboseli have seen little disturbance, even during poaching's heyday in the 1980s. Today, Amboseli is one of the most popular national parks in Kenya, and is one of the best places in Africa to watch elephants.

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