Amboseli is postcard Africa - possibly providing Africa's most famous image. Beyond the image, however, lies the story of Africa in the 21st century. Man's impact on the environment, global warming and cultural identity are part of the Amboseli story.
Amboseli lies in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, and it is here where some of Africa's most famous postcard pictures have been taken. Images portraying elephants walking against the backdrop of the legendary mountain are part of African safari folklore.
But Amboseli is far more than postcard images. The park is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries on the continent.
The landscape of Amboseli is made up of swamps, grasslands and acacia bushveld but the heart of the park is certainly the swamps that attract animals in numbers during the dry season. Fed by rainfall and the snows of Kilimanjaro the swamps draw herds of elephant and buffalo, giraffe and zebra, to the water and lush grass.
The national park is a small part of the Amboseli Conservation Area, most of which is Maasai land. With the approval of the Maasai communities in the area a number of operators have set up lodges in the traditional areas and it is here where interaction with the Maasai Culture can be experienced.
A signboard in the grounds of the lodge we were staying at proclaimed five rules including the usual warnings against leaving the lodge grounds without a guide and informing of the danger posed by wild animals - but topping the list was an ominous warning regarding the Maasai. It simply read: 'Do not photograph the Maasai!
I have always asked permission before photographing people or sensitive subjects but here was a place where the Maasai were all over the area - they were almost a part of the décor. On the afternoon of our arrival at the aforementioned lodge I was attempting to photograph the lodge interior but soon gave up when a 'warrior' insisted on moving into the frame each time I set up an image.
Apparently all I needed to do was ask his permission to photograph him and he would have agreed for a fee. The romanticized western notion of people worrying about their souls being stolen by a camera becomes a bit of a joke when a five dollar bill is all that is needed to release the captured soul. Amboseli is where it really struck me how western ideals silently creep into the proudest of cultures.
Kilimanjaro is renowned for its ice cap - picture postcards have immortalized the image. Beyond the postcard image however is the reality of the dangers facing the earth today. The ice cap has shrunk in the past decade, giving rise to calls that global warming is responsible.
Other scientists claim that the melting of the ice-cap is due to other factors such as deforestation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro whereby less moisture is produced to form the ice cap. Whatever the reason for the melting, Amboseli is in a potential crisis as the park relies on the runoff from the mountain to feed the swamp which in turn is a haven for the animals of the park.
The Maasai once watered their cattle in the swamps of the present day Amboseli, but due to clashes between man and wildlife the park was gazetted a national park and the Maasai were moved onto the surrounding areas. Boreholes were sunk in these areas to provide water for the Maasai and their cattle.
Recently reports have surfaced of the Maasai tribesmen allowing safari operators to set up lodges on their land. This could spell disaster for Amboseli as more safari vehicles mean more damage to this already over-utilised area.
Amboseli is one of Africa's most popular game parks - iconic, scenically spectacular and game-rich - but it is also one of the most endangered wilderness areas due to human and climatic factors. In danger from many sides Amboseli needs more than common sense to prevail to ensure its existence for the future.