Amboseli National Park, formerly Maasai Amboseli Game Reserve, is in Kajiado County, Kenya. The park is 39,206 hectares (392 km2; 151 sq mi) in size at the core of an 8,000 km2 (3,100 sq mi) ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border.
The local people are mainly Maasai, but people from other parts of the country have settled there attracted by the successful tourist-driven economy and intensive agriculture along the system of swamps that makes this low-rainfall area (average 350 mm (14 in)) one of the best wildlife-viewing experiences in the world with 400 species of birds including water birds, pelicans, kingfishers, crakes, hammerkops, and 47 types of raptors.
The park protects two of the five main swamps, and includes a dried-up Pleistocene lake and semiarid vegetation.
About 240 km (150 mi) southeast from the capital city Nairobi, Amboseli National Park is the second-most popular national park in Kenya after Maasai Mara National Reserve.
In 1883, Joseph Thompson was the first European to penetrate the feared Maasai region known as Empusel (meaning ‘salty, dusty place’ in Maa).
He too was astonished by the fantastic array of wildlife and the contrast between the arid areas of the dry lake bed and the oasis of the swamps, a contrast that persists today.
Amboseli was set aside as the Southern Reserve for Maasai in 1906, but returned to local control as a game reserve in 1948. Gazetted a national park in 1974 to protect the core of this unique ecosystem, it was declared a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve in 1991.
The park earned $3.5 m (€2.9 m) in 2005. On 29 September 2005, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared that control of the park should pass from the Kenya Wildlife Service to the Olkejuado County Council and the Maasai tribe.
Some observers saw this as a political favour in advance of a vote on a new Kenyan constitution; legal challenges are currently in court. The degazetting would divert park admission fees directly to the county council with shared benefits to the Maasai immediately surrounding the park.
The park is famous for being the best place in the world to get close to free-ranging elephants. Other attractions of the park include opportunities to meet Maasai and visit a Maasai village. The park also has views of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Amboseli was home to Echo, perhaps the most researched elephant in the world, and the subject of many books and documentaries, followed for almost four decades by American conservationist Dr Cynthia Moss. Echo died in 2009 when she was about 60 years old.
Amboseli offers some of the best opportunities to see African wildlife because the vegetation is sparse due to the long, dry months. Amboseli National Park is home to many species, including African bush elephants, Cape buffaloes, impala, East African lions, cheetahs, spotted hyenas, Masai giraffes, Grant’s zebras, and blue wildebeest among other African animals. Also, a host of Kenyan birds, both large and small, are found there.
The park has several rules to protect the wildlife: Never getting out of the vehicle, except at designated spots; no harassing the animals in any way; always keep to the tracks; no off-road driving; and always give the animals the right of way. The roads in Amboseli have a loose surface of volcanic soil that is dusty in the dry season and impassable in the wet season.
A small airport is in Amboseli, the Amboseli Airport (HKAM).