Area 392 km²
Established 1974 as a national park (as a reserve in1906)
Visitors 120,000 (estimated) (in 2006)
Governing body Kenya Wildlife Services, Olkejuado County Council and the Maasai community
Amboseli National Park, formerly Maasai Amboseli Game Reserve is in Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province in Kenya. The park is 390 km² (150 mi2) in size at the core of an 8,000 km² (3,000 mi2) 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 widlife-viewing experiences in the world. The park protects two of the five main swamps, and includes a dried-up Pleistocene lake and semi-arid vegetation.
260 km (160 mi) from the capital city Nairobi, Amboseli National Park is the third most visited game area in Kenya after Maasai Mara National Reserve and Nakuru National Park and the visit can easily be done in a weekend.
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 in order to protect the core 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 September 29, 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 favor 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 questionable spread of benefits to the Maasai immediately surrounding the park. It would set an unfortunate precedent that could jeopardise the status of other parks in Kenya.
The park is famous for being the best place in Africa to get close to free-ranging elephants. Other attractions of the park include opportunities to meet Maasai and spectacular views of Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
There is a small airport in Amboseli, the Amboseli Airport (HKAM).