It is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in the Mara region of neighbours Tanzania, and is the northern-most section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which covers some 25,000 km2 (9,700 sq mi) in Tanzania and Kenya. It is named in honour 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.
The “Mara”, as the locals call it, is for many the quintessential African safari destination. The image of acacia trees dotting endless grass plains epitomises Africa; then add a Maasai warrior and some cattle to the picture and the conversation need go no further. This is Africa!
Covering an area of 1,510 km2 (583 sq mi) and rising from 1,550 to 2,100 metres (5,100 to 6,900 ft) above sea level, the Maasai Mara National Reserve is a place of breathtaking vistas, abundant wildlife and endless plains. The terrain of the reserve is primarily open grassland with seasonal riverlets. In the southeast region are clumps of the distinctive acacia tree. The western border is the Esoit (Siria) Escarpment of the East African Rift, which is a system of rifts some 5,600 km (3,500 mi) long, from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique.
The Maasai Mara is regarded as the jewel of Kenya’s wildlife viewing areas and one of the world’s greatest wildlife reserves. 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 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, 97,000 Topi, 18,000 elands, and 200,000 zebras.
Nowhere in Africa is wildlife more abundant than in the Mara, and it is, for this reason, a visitor hardly misses seeing the big five (Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Rhino). Another 90 species of mammals have been recorded in the reserve, including Cheetah, Spotted Hyaena, Hippopotamus, Giraffe (Maasai or tippelskirchi subspecies), Common Eland, Grant’s Gazelle, Black-backed Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Serval and many others.
More than 500 species of birds have been identified in the park, with almost 60 species of raptors. Highlights include several species of vultures, Saddle-billed, Woolly-necked and Marabou Stork, Secretarybird, many hornbill species, D’arnaud’s Barbet, 7 species of kingfisher, Ross’s and Schalow’s Turaco, Kori and Denham’s Bustard, Grey-crested Helmetshrike, aptly named Long-crested Eagle and Superb Starling, Grey Crowned Crane, the cute Pygmy Falcon, Sooty Chat, Jackson’s Widowbird, Kenya Sparrow, Southern Grosbeak-canary, Rufous-bellied and Malagasy Pond Heron, Lesser Kestrel, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and the beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller, the national bird of Kenya. It is easy to see over 200 species on a 3 day trip in the Mara!
Something else to look out for is the absolutely monstrous Nile Crocodiles that inhabit the Mara river. These ancient reptiles (some of them over 5 metres/16 feet long!) lie in wait for the migrating mammals and seeing one of them catch a zebra and consume it is a scary reminder of how fragile us humans are in the greater scheme of things.
The reserve is a photographer’s and naturalist’s paradise, with abundant wildlife, birds, incredible African landscapes, and excellent weather. The BBC Television show titled “Big Cat Diary” was filmed in both the Reserve and Conservation areas of the Maasai Mara.
Join one of our Kenya Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.