Maasai Mara Game Reserve Size: 1,510 sq km
The Maasai Mara is arguably Kenya’s most popular game reserve. It is most famous and most visited game reserve in Kenya. The film “Out of Africa” was made to a great extend in this sanctuary. There is a profusion of all types of wildlife including the big five.
A spectacle worth seeing is the annual migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras, and the gazelles from the Serengeti plains across the Tanzania border and the Mara river to reach Maasai Mara grazing fields from late June.
The game reserve abounds with birdlife since close to about four hundred and fifty two odd species have been recorded
Vegetation and Topography
Wetlands in the Mara are mainly seasonal, with few permanent wetlands. They usually occur where black cotton soil traps water at the surface or underground streams re-emerge. Wetlands have lush, green vegetation, even in the dry season, and sometimes permanent water as at Musiara.
Species to be found here:
Buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, elephant, all predators, especially lion.
Grasslands are found on any type of rocks and increasing annually as fire and elephant encroachment destroy the thickets. Red Oat Grass and Thatch Grass dominate. The landscape has a classical rolling plains, with scattered trees such as in Balanites savannah.
Species to be found here:
Enormous herds of grazers, especially wildebeest, zebra, gazelle; also topi, kongoni, eland, lion cheetah, hyaena, jackal.
The Riverine Forests
This is the only ecozone with continuous stands of tall trees. Originally extensive, riverrine forests are now mainly confined to the banks of Mara and Talek rivers because of fire and encroachment by elephants.
Tree species found here:
Warburgia ugandensis, Dyospyros Abyssinia, Phoenix Palm and Yellow barked Acacia (Fever Tree)
Elephant, buffalo, bushbuck, hyrax, several monkey species and hundreds of birds.
The Thickets east of the Mara River
On various sizes of quartz hills these are the largest remaining thickets in the Maasai Mara. Soils are sandy and poor and hills may be covered in loose rock or scree. Annual fires thin out the Croton. But after burning, the grasses between the bushes will be short and nutritious.
Species to be found here:
Rhino, warthog, dik-dik, impala, buffalo, eland, and their predators.
Fig Trees and Sausage Trees
These are scattered all over the Mara.
Elephants, wildebeest, impala and other animals use the
The Mara River
The river meanders between steep banks of alluvium, often 6m high, causing havoc to wildebeest and zebra during migration river crossings. Intermittent bands of resistant rock result in altering rapids and scores of deep hippo pools. Hundreds of huge crocodiles lie in wait in the river. During migrations 2 millions animals repeatedly run the gauntlet of this crossing.
The Talek and Sand rivers
The Sand River is sometimes spectacular, with lovely sandy “beaches”. Many small streams have no obvious riverbed. Some are only evidenced in the dry season by a line of scattered Croton Bushes, reaching down to understand water.
All grazers and predators.
The Mara River
The river meanders between steep banks of alluvium, often 6m high, causing havoc to wildebeest and zebra during migration river crossings. Intermittent bands of resistant rock result in alternating rapids and scores of deep hippo pools. Hundreds of huge crocodiles lie in wait in the river. During migrations, 2 million animals repeatedly run the gauntlet of this crossing.
The Oloololo Escarpment
This is a continuous 400m, 45 degrees slope along a fault line in the west, visible from almost everything in the Mara. Beyond, a gentle slope runs down to Lake Victoria, originally wooded, but, except in deep gullies, now mainly grass.
Species: Most grazing animals, elephants, hyrax, leopard, klipspringer.
The Maasai Mara is known as one of the finest wildlife destination in the World. There is an excellent chance of seeing the Big 5, cheetah, serval, hyena, bat – eared foxes, black-backed and side-stripped jackals, hippo, crocodile, baboons, warthogs, topi, eland, Thompson’s gazelle, Grants gazelle, Impala, waterbuck, oribi, reed – buck, zebra.
Animal hunters have always fascinated us, perhaps because we were hunters too. The animals in Africa have lived among human and animal predators for millennia, and are well adapted to survive with them. Predators use different strategies to catch their prey.
Lion and cheetah
During the migrations, lions feed mainly on wildebeest and zebra. However, it is the number of resident species such as buffalo, topi , kongoni and impala which control lion populations. The Mara has over 500 lions, many in very large prides of occasionally over 30 individuals, with each pride occupying its own range.
Cheetah are among the most successful hunters, catching half of all animals they chase. They live on the open plains, where they can best make use of their speed to catch their prey. Females normally unt and raise their cubs on their cubs on their own. Males form siblings groups of 1 – 4 individuals, and often hunt together.
Leopard, serval and crocodile
Leopard and serval prefer the dense vegetation in riverine areas, where their spotted coats blend with the shadows. They are nocturnal hunters. The best times to find them are very early in the morning and late in the afternoon, or on night drives.
The crocodile is a very efficient killer. While waiting submerged in muddy water for better concealment, it resembles a log. Adults eat mostly fish, but also terrapins, birds and mammals.
Hyaenas, jackals and vultures
Predators often do not eat their entire kill. They usually leave behind a carcass of bones , skin, innards and sometimes some flesh, which provide food for a vast range of other creatures. These range from insects like Blowflies and their maggots, to the larger, scavenging mammals and birds. They ensure that the carcass is totally cleaned or devoured, which helps to control dangerous diseases such as botulism and anthrax.
Of the larger scavengers that work together to clear carcasses, some have strong teeth or beaks to tear skin and break bones. These include hyena and white backed vulture that move in, dominate, and eat as fast and as much as possible. Smaller animals such as Black-backed jackals and Hooded Vultures rely on their speed to compete to kill.
Animals use various strategies to avoid predators, which influence their behavior, habitat choice and social habits. The leaf – eating browsers live in small family groups in dense thickets. This decreases the chances of predators find them. Their coat colour is usually broken by stripes or spots, helping to camouflage them amongst the leaves and branches. When approached by a predator they stand still to avoid being spotted. If they are threatened they scatter apart, making it difficult to select a single animal.
The grass – eating grazers, on the other hand, form large groups that stampede when threatened by a predator. They depend on habitats with good visibility to be able to spot predators approaching from a distance.
The Great Wildebeest Migration
The wildebeest migration is without a doubt one of the largest and most spectacular sight involving more than a million animals. The animals migrate from the southern short grass plains of Serengeti’s ecosystem to the northern woodlands of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
There are various reasons that trigger this phenomenon one of which is the nutritional requirements for the animals. Rainfall patterns in the ecosystem vary. Some areas get consistent rain while other parts remain dry meaning that the pasture improves in quality attracting the wildlife.
Many visitors only want to see the river crossings but the true spectacle of the migration is 1,245,000 wildebeest, 200,000 Burchell's zebra, 18,000 eland and 500,000 Thomson's Gazelle filling the entire stretch of landscape. The shifting columns of the herds as they traverse the valleys and the hills can only be watched in awe. There is nothing else like this on earth.
The breeding cycle of wildebeests may be another reason for migration. During mating, the estrous cycles of the animals are synchronized enabling all females to conceive within a spell of three (3) weeks. This mating takes place in Serengeti. Calving is timed to coincide with the green pastures in Northern Serengeti and Maasai Mara. They start their migration early travelling an average of 10 km per day to at their wet season calving grounds.
During the migration, the wildebeests and other herbivores are preyed upon by lions, hyenas and other predators. The most dangerous leg of the migration is the crossing of the Mara River which is a spectacle that attracts many visitors. Several thousand wildebeest do not make it to across the crocodile infested river, who are capable of drowning an adult wildebeest in the less than 5 minutes.
Scavengers such as hyenas and vultures can be considered the “clean up crew” that eat what the crocodiles and predators leave behind. However where there is death there is life. About 20,000 calves are born during the migration. Another similar population is found in Loita hills next to the Maasai Mara.
Main roads are all weather. Accessing the Mara area is difficult without private transport. Most visitors come to Maasai Mara as part of a safari package from Nairobi. The park has well established internal roads and tracks.
The airstrip serving Masai Mara game reserve are,Keekorok ,Siana Springs,Olkiombo,Musiara,Kichwa Tembo,Mara Serena,Ngerende ,Mara Shikar,Cottars and Mara Buffallo.
The lodges and camps are located on different airstrips and below are the airstrips and the lodges served by each airstrip:
AIRSTRIP CAMP / LODGE SERVICED BY THE AISTRIP
Keekorok Airstrip Keekorok Lodge ,Mara Sarova ,Mara Simba,
Mara Sopa, Sekenani, Mara Hippo, Cottars 1920.
Siana Springs Airstrip Siana Springs Camp
Olkiombo Airstrip Intrepid, Mara Explorer. Base camp Explorer,
Mara fig Tree, Nyumbu
Musiara Airstrip Little governors, Main Governors, Il Moran camp, Mara River Camp, Sanctuary camp (Olonana)
Mara Serena Airstrip Mara Serena Lodge
Mara Shikar Airstrips David Livingstone, Kicheche Camp,
Mara Safari Club
Ngerende Airstrips Mara Safari Club, Kicheche camp,
Flights out of Nairobi to Maasai Mara
There are two daily scheduled flights to Masai Mara the first flight departing at 0945 am and the second flight at 1000 hrs to Masai Mara arriving at 1100 am depending with the number of stops. It departs Mara at 1115 am and 1130 am to arrive Nairobi at 1215 pm and 1230 pm.
The flight time Nairobi to Masai Mara one-way is 45 minutes. The afternoon flight departs at 1445 hrs first flight and second flight at 1500 hrs arriving Masai Mara at 1545 hrs and 1600 hrs and departing Masai Mara at 1600 hrs first flight and second flight at 1615 hrs arriving Nairobi at 1700 hrs and 1715 hrs respectively.
The Maasai Tribe
Though not the most powerful tribe politically in East Africa, the Maasai are certainly the best known. They are recognized for their handsome appearance, and also for being brave, stubborn, and fiercely proud of their culture and traditions.
They are clearly identifiable = the men wearing their bright red cloaks, often carrying a spear and rungu (short club); the women colourfully dressed and festooned in bangles and beads. In spite of their modern education, many Maasai still follow traditional age group ceremonies and rituals, many men going through the three stages of boyhood, warrior and elder.
The Maasai in Kenya’s History
When the British and German colonialists arrived in Kenya at the end of the 19th Century, the Maasai people occupied and area from central Tanzania
Cattle and the Maasai
Cattle are the hub of Maasai existence. Homes are located around a cattle stockade, the Enkang (sometimes called the Manyatta). Cattle are the major sign of wealth and a medium of exchange. The products of cattle – milk, blood, hides and eve dung (used in house building) – are all central to the way of life. Traditionally, unlike other tribes, the Maasai have never hunted wild animals for food, but depend on their cows, together with sheep and goats. Effectively they live at peace with wildlife.
With two long dry periods, the seasonal search for grazing provided the reason for the Maasai semi nomadic way of life.
The Maasai and the Mara
The word “ Mara” means spotted or mottled in the Maasai languages. Most of the names of places are descriptive. Another you will know is ”Serengeti” , meaning wide or seemingly never – ending plains.
The reserve is controlled by the Narok and Trans – Mara County Councils. In 2001 the management of the Triangle was ceded to the Mara Conservancy, a highly successful wildlife management experiment.
Although you will occasionally see Maasai cattle encroached into the Reserve, the Maasai now live around the protected area on three sides. Wild animals, however, recognize no man – made boundaries, and often there is a much wildlife outside the Reserve as in it.
The Maasai and the future of the Maasai Mara
The future of the Maasai Mara depends on good, sustainable management which takes into account the needs both of the animals and also of the people.
It will make the most sense if the healthy survival of the Mara increasingly becomes the Maasai people’s number one financial asset, where everyone can clearly see its benefits.
Best time to visit
July to November