By Jane Staley
Kilimanjaro, though technically in Tanzania, rules the tiny kingdom of Amboseli National Park. When Kilimanjaro is wrapped in its cloak of clouds, Amboseli is much like any other game park. But when the mountain emerges, sugar-snow-dusted, Amboseli enters the realm of magic.
Slung like a belt across the waist of the park is a swamp, the remains of a once vast prehistoric lake. Surreally, half-submerged, some fifty elephants wallow amid its luridly green reeds. The elephants appear truncated, legs out of sight. And they all carry a passenger – a white cattle egret.
Small, hunched of posture, and long of leg, egrets are usually found in the company of cows, off whose parasites they dine. In Kilimanjaro’s kingdom, however, they ride elephants. A young elephant glides by, trunk aloft. On its back is an egret jockey, eyes directed straight ahead. He’s going places.
Loping across the plains comes a lone hyena. He’s furtive, casting the odd glance over his shoulder as if in expectation of pursuit. Great chains of wildebeest caper across the plains, tails swishing, horns lowered. It’s a mini-migration orchestrated by the great showman, Kilimanjaro. In a small hollow, perhaps of his own making, stands a lone bull elephant. Trailing his trunk across the ground he steadily kicks dry dust into its open end. Then he lifts it, caterpillar-curled, and blows the dust all over himself: Pouff!
In the centre of the park erupts a conical hill encircled by a lake. On its blue waters rides a flotilla of pinkish-white pelicans. On the shoreline, rising slowly from the water is a large hippo. He is contemplating a stroll. But his exit is blocked by a line of sleeping pelicans. He stares accusingly at them.
At first, the pelicans preen their feathers, seemingly unimpressed by the glowering presence of several tons of irritated brawn. But, one by one, they waddle away until only one remains: and it’s fast asleep. Out comes the hippo, his stubby legs slithering up the bank, his little hooves scrabbling for purchase on the slime, until he stands, affronted, over the sleeping pelican. Which remains, steadfastly, asleep.
Incredulous, the hippo lowers his great head until his raspberry-pink snout is inches from the pelican. Then he slithers slowly backwards down the bank and disappears beneath the water. The pelican opens one eye, surveys the empty lake, and returns to sleep.
A herd of elephants emerges from the swamp and marches off across the plains. Overhead, the sky has turned lilac-pink. Beneath it, sunshine gilded, the zebras’ frolic.
It’s just another day in Kilimanjaro’s Kingdom.