The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also known as Masai Mara and by the locals as The Mara) is a large game reserve in Narok County, Kenya; contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Mara Region, Tanzania.
It is named in honor of the Maasai people (the ancestral inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from afar: “Mara,” which is Maa (Maasai language) for “spotted,” an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area.
Maasai Mara National Reserve stretches 1,510 square kilometers (580 square miles) and raises 1,500-2,170 meters (4920-7120 feet) above sea level.
When it was originally established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary the Mara covered only 520 square kilometres (200 square miles) of the current area
All members of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, cape buffalo, and black rhinoceros) – plus popular species like zebra, giraffe, hyena, cheetah, eland and gazelle are found in the Maasai Mara.
Hippos are abundant in the Mara River as are very large Nile crocodiles, who lay in wait for a meal as the wildebeest cross on their annual quest to find new pastures.
As in the Serengeti, the wildebeest are the dominant inhabitants of the Maasai Mara, and their numbers are estimated in the millions. Around July of each year, these ungainly animals migrate north from the Serengeti plains in search of fresh pasture, and return to the south around October. The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving some 1,300,000 wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 200,000 zebras 97,000 Topi and 18,000 elands.
There are four main types of topography in the Mara: Ngama Hills to the east with sandy soil and leafy bushes liked by black rhino; Oloololo Escarpment forming the western boundary and rising to a magnificent plateau; Mara Triangle bordering the Mara River with lush grassland and acacia woodlands supporting masses of game especially migrating wildebeest; Central Plains forming the largest part of the reserve, with scattered bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favoured by the plains game.
The Masai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) long, from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique.
The Maasai are a strongly independent people who still value tradition and ritual as an integral part of
their everyday lives. They regard themselves not just as residents of this area, but as much a part of the life of the land as the land is a part of their lives.
Traditionally, the Maasai rarely hunt and live alongside wildlife in harmony, which is an important part of their beliefs. Lions and wildebeest play as important a role in their cultural beliefs, as do their own herds of cattle. This unique co-existence of man and wildlife makes this Maasai area one of the world’s most unique wilderness regions.
Arrowheads and pottery discarded by Neolithic man 2000 years ago have been found in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
A study funded by WWF and conducted by ILRI between 1989 and 2003 monitored hoofed species in the Mara on a monthly basis, and found that losses were as high as 75% for giraffes, 80% for common warthogs, 76% for hartebeest, and 67% for impala. The study blames the loss of animals on increased human settlement in and around the reserve. The higher human population density leads to an increased number of livestock grazing in the park and an increase in poaching.
The Maasai Mara is a major research center for the spotted hyena.
The Mara has been called the Kingdom of Lions and these regal and powerful hunters dominate these grasslands.
The BBC Television show titled “Big Cat Diary” is filmed in both the Reserve and Conservation areas of the Maasai Mara.
With the wildebeest migration in JULY – OCTOBER, this is the best time to see this incredible movement of animals. Also, December to February are great times as it is dryer and good for the Big Cats.
The best time to view animals is either at dawn or dusk.
Approximately 290,000 tourists enjoy Masai Mara National Park every year.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve not the largest conservation area in Kenya but it is the most famous one.