Masai Mara National Reserve
The Maasai Mara is one of the best-known reserves in the whole of Africa, and is globally renowned for its exceptional wildlife. Despite comprising only 0.01% of Africa’s total landmass, more than 40% of Africa’s larger mammals can be found here. Across the vast plains of the Mara visitors are able to witness lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, and an infinite variety of other species in their natural habitats.
The Mara is perhaps best known for the Great Migration, which takes place every year from late June to October/November. During these months the yellow savannah is dotted black by more than 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra and antelopes that migrate from the Serengeti to the Mara in search of food and water.
The Maasai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 3,500 miles (5,600km) long stretching from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and into Mozambique. Here the valley is wide, and a towering escarpment can be seen in the hazy distance. The animals are at liberty to move outside the park into huge areas known as ‘dispersal areas’. There can be as much wildlife roaming outside the park as inside. Many Maasai villages are located in the ‘dispersal areas’ and they have, over centuries, developed a synergetic relationship with the wildlife.
There are four main types of terrain in the Mara – the Ngama Hills to the east with sandy soil and leafy bushes favoured 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; and the Central Plains, forming the largest part of the reserve with scattered bushes and boulders on rolling grasslands favoured by the plains game.
Seasoned safari travellers, travel writers, documentary makers and researchers often describe the Maasai Mara as one of their favourite places. So why is that? Perhaps it is because of the ‘big skies’, the open savannahs, the romance of films like ‘Out of Africa’, and certainly because of the annual wildebeest migration, the density of game, the variety of bird life and the chance of a hot air balloon ride. There are also the tall red-robed Maasai people, whose lifestyle is completely at odds with western practices, from whom one learns to question certain Western values.