Elephants of Amboseli, and Kilimanjaro

 

Photograph of the Elephants and Kilimanjaro chapter opening spread from the book called African Icons

Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Mount Kilimanjaro and Elephants, Kenya.

They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.
Robert R McCammon, Boy’s Life
Past, Present and Future

In the book Snowcaps on the Equator, co-author Gordon Boy writes: “The massive form of Kilimanjaro straddles the border of Kenya and Tanzania. When viewed from the mirage-soaked, dusty plains of southern Kenya, it emerges to dominate the landscape in a profoundly natural way. The eyes unwittingly absorb the dry salt-flats, acacias, Maasai, wild game and the mountain all in one.”

The combination of this iconic mountain in association with the game-filled Amboseli plains to the north is the reason we decided to combine the continent’s biggest landscape with its most impressive animal. Loxodonta africana is the world’s largest land mammal and exceptional in so many ways. Apart from its gargantuan size and Herculean strength (they can uproot large trees with little effort), it is their sensitive and gentle nature that most marks them.

Kilimanjaro is one of several volcanoes in central Africa and South America that reach (with a few just topping) 6,000 metres in altitude. Kilimanjaro is a word that comes from the local Wachagga tongue; it is something of a metaphor (mountain+caravan) implying a journey that has no ending. It is meant to imply you cannot reach the top, for any one of several reasons.

Photograph of Giraffe and Kilimanjaro from the book called African Icons

The first is the obvious one, that it is extremely hard for an untrained human to reach that altitude. The other being that, although positioned a fraction south of the equator, it is extremely cold around the summit cone and East Africans are especially afraid of cold. Another reason lies in the realm of the supernatural, the fact that high mountains the world over are associated with spirituality, often regarded as the domain of gods and Kilimanjaro is no exception. To venture to the summit would be an affront to the local mountain gods.

In 1848 a German missionary was the first to record the presence of a huge mountain in the heart of the East African plains. Johann Rebmann saw a gleaming white summit, described by Wachagga tribesmen as baridi (cold).

Photograph of elephants and baboons from the book called African Icons

 

Have a look at our video below:

 

We stayed at Satao Elerai Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.

 

Photograph of the Satao Elerai Lodge from the book called African Icons

 

A Jumbo-Size Windfall

At Satao Elerai Lodge big tuskers have right of way around camp. From early morning they begin to gather at the waterhole in front of the lodge and while individuals come and go the big-ivoried beasts dominate proceedings. The giraffes, eland, kudu, and other game hang around the fringes like cross-dressers at a biker bar, while the more wily black-backed jackals play the dangerous game of darting in and out between them to steal drinks.

Since the establishment of the Satao Elerai Conservancy elephants have moved back and have re-arranged the landscape significantly, as they are wont to do. In the first few years they destroyed almost all of the large honey-nectared blackthorn (Acacia mellifera) and fever trees (known locally as elerai, otherwise Acacia xanthophloea).

But one man’s deadfall is another’s windfall: it took the builders two years to gather up all the fallen timber to be used in the construction of the lodge. Trunks, branches and roots have been utilised in the most creative way for structural elements as well as fanciful fittings. The staircase in the main bar-lounge-dining area is ¬a work of considerable structural expertise and architectural art.

On our last night there dark storm clouds rolled over the Amboseli plain. “There will be snow tonight,” promised the lodge manager. We rose early to witness Kilimanjaro bathed in a soft golden glow, the summit cone wrapped in a frosting of snow. It seemed like a promise, like a rainbow after a thunderstorm, of better times to come.

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