Amboseli National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Amboseli National Park lies immediately north-west of Mount Kilimanjaro, on the border with Tanzania. Amboseli was established as a nature reserve in 1968, and gazetted as a National Park in 1974. It is surrounded by six communally-owned group ranches that are wet-season dispersal areas for wildlife, and whose management has direct influence on the ecological stability of the park. The park covers part of a Pleistocene lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a temporary lake, ‘Lake’ Amboseli, that floods during years of heavy rainfall. The Amboseli area is in the rain-shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro and receives only c.300 mm of rain/year on average. However, water flowing underground from Mount Kilimanjaro wells up here in a series of lush papyrus Cyperus papyrus swamps that provide dry-season water and forage for wildlife. Tracts of attractive Acacia xanthophloea woodland flank these. Open Acacia tortilis woodland also occurs on drainage lines in the southern part of the park. AcaciaCommiphora bushland surrounds the basin, while the level floor, with alkaline soils, supports thickets of Salvadora persica and Suaeda monoica. Large concentrations of wildlife occur here in the dry season. This, with the picturesque surroundings (dominated by the imposing Mount Kilimanjaro), has made Amboseli a major tourist destination, attracting over 200,000 visitors each year.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The park has a rich bird fauna, with over 400 bird species recorded, including over 40 birds of prey. Many wetland birds use, and at times nest in, the swamps. Several species of global conservation concern occur, including Falco naumanni (on passage), small numbers of non-breeding Ardeola idae (mainly May–October) and Phoenicopterus minor (present in variable numbers, up to a few thousand). Balaeniceps rex has been recorded once. Regionally threatened species include Anhinga rufa (scarce non-breeding visitor); Casmerodius albus (usually present in small numbers); Thalassornis leuconotus (occasional visitor); Trigonoceps occipitalis (uncommon resident); and Polemaetus bellicosus (resident in small numbers).

Non-bird biodiversity: Amboseli is well known for its populations of large mammals. The park’s population of Loxodonta africana (EN), numbering c.1,000, is the subject of a long-term behavioural and ecological study. The park’s population of Diceros bicornis (CR) has been exterminated.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
When Amboseli was first established as a nature reserve in 1968, the boundaries were largely arbitrary and failed to cover the wet-season wildlife dispersal areas. The later upgrading to National Park status was in part an attempt to arrest the ongoing conflict between wildlife and the pastoral Maasai and their livestock. Unfortunately, this problem continues to bedevil Amboseli, which remains an ecosystem in flux. The park depends heavily on subterranean water from Mount Kilimanjaro: any change of climate or land-use on the mountain affects the water table, the swamps and the general distribution of vegetation. In fact, the swamp area has expanded greatly in recent years, leading to a general increase in numbers of waterbirds. On the other hand, the Acacia xanthophloea woodlands and other woody vegetation have declined markedly over the last 20 years. Due in part to soil salinization following a natural shift in the water table, this decline has been hastened by heavy browsing pressure from elephants. Through fear of the Maasai in the group ranches outside the park, the Amboseli elephants have confined themselves to the park boundaries, not moving out to feed as they used to at certain times of the year. This is one example of the park’s major problem: human–wildlife conflict. During the dry season, the Maasai need to graze their cattle around the swamps; during the wet season, the wildlife moves out of the park onto their land in search of pasture. This problem appears to have been at least partially resolved in recent years: artificial water points around the park now provide a reliable water supply for Maasai livestock; group ranches are compensated for the presence of wildlife on their land; and the group ranches, recognizing the economic value of wildlife, have begun to set up wildlife sanctuaries of their own. The large number of tourists visiting Amboseli, mainly in the dry season, also exert considerable pressure on the ecosystem. Off-road driving kills vegetation and encourages wind erosion of the fragile soils, and also contributes to harassment of sensitive species such as Acinonyx jubatus. Recent road rehabilitation has helped to reduce this and to spread visitor pressure to less-frequented parts of the park. Accommodation for visitors is concentrated in the Ol Tukai area, which is under the jurisdiction of the Kajiado County Council rather than Kenya Wildlife Service and uncontrolled development here has created local environmental problems.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Amboseli National Park. Downloaded from on 26/10/2021.