All You Need to Know About the Maasai Mara National Reserve
Beautiful Kenya, an iconic safari destination visited by several travellers and home to the well-known Maasai Mara National Reserve. With a unique culture, diverse wildlife, and unforgettable landscapes, it’s no wonder hundreds of tourists flock to this reserve.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
The reserve consists of four main types of terrain:
- Ngama Hills – Located on the east side of the Maasai Mara with sandy soil and favoured by the black rhino.
- Oloololo Escarpment – Located on the west side of the Maasai Mara, it rises to a magnificent plateau.
- Mara Triangle – It borders the Mara River with grasslands and acacia woodlands. It is a popular area for migrating wildebeest and other wildlife.
- Central Plains – This forms the largest part of the Maasai Mara. This terrain is mostly favoured by plains wildlife.
Where to Find the Reserve
Rainy Season: It rains in April and May and again in November to February and this can cause some areas of the Mara to be inaccessible due to the sticky ‘black cotton’ mud.
Dry Season: July to October is dry and the grass is long and lush after the rains. This is a good time to come and see the huge herds of migratory herbivores.
Hottest time: The warmest time of year is December and January.
Coldest Time: June and July are the coldest months.
Because the reserve is based in Kenya which is located at the equator, temperatures remain constant throughout the year. It’s pleasantly warm during the day, with cooler temperatures during the night. During the dry seasons, it reaches 23 degrees Celsius during the day and during the wet seasons, 27 degrees Celsius.
Once one of the top native tribes found in Kenya, the Maasai people are known for their bright red robes and fierce warriors. The Maasai are one of the few cultures around which still continue with their traditions.
They occupy a total land area of 160,000 square km with a population of roughly one million people.
In the early 17th century, the Maasai people moved into the Kenya highlands and spread throughout the area.
They were semi-nomadic, moving with their cattle around during the wet and dry seasons to prevent areas from becoming overgrazed.
However, when European settlers moved into their territory, they lost most of their lands and are now settled in one location. Tourism and local agriculture help them continue with their traditions and lifestyle.
Meat, milk, and blood traditionally make up the diet of the Maasai, providing them with their protein and caloric needs.
On special occasions, the Maasai people will drink blood from cattle. The blood is given to a circumcised person, the sick, and a woman who has given birth. Drunk elders also regularly drink cattle blood to alleviate hangovers. The blood is a good source of protein and is good for the immune system.
The Big Five
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is home to a diverse group of animals which includes the Big Five. When people talk about the big five in Africa, they are explicitly talking about the lion, leopard, rhino, Cape buffalo, and the African Elephant.
These animals are dangerous because they are incredibly unpredictable, very intelligent, are masters of camouflage, and can be very aggressive. Many of the travel in large groups, making them even more deadly.
Many of these beasts are listed as endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but of all the Big Five animals, the rhino is the most endangered.
The African Lion
The African lion is one of the most recognizable members of the animal kingdom. Male lions have a prominent mane, and the older the lion is, the darker the mane becomes. The mane of a healthy male lion would also be thicker and larger than that of other lions.
The African Leopard
The African leopard is found throughout large parts of Africa and inhabit many different habitats. They can live comfortably almost anywhere except in an extremely sandy desert. Leopards tend to be very adaptable and can easily move from area to area when threatened.
The two African rhino species are the white rhino and the black rhino. The main difference between the white and the black rhino is the shape of their mouths. White rhinos (the original name being derived from the word “wide”, referring to the shape of their mouths) have wide or broad mouths, while the black rhino has long pointed lips. The black rhino was named to contrast with the name white rhino.
The Cape Buffalo
The African buffalo or Cape buffalo has large horns with a fused base, this fused base is called a boss.
These buffaloes are very dangerous and extremely aggressive. Unlike the water buffalo, the African buffalo has never been domesticated.
They don’t have many natural predators, excluding lions and crocodiles, and they are very capable of defending themselves.
The African Elephant
The African bush elephant is the largest living terrestrial animal.
They are unusual looking creatures of enormous size, with large ears, a long slim trunk and intimidating tusks. Their ears enable heat loss. The elephant would flap its ears fanning its body to enable heat loss.
Their upper lip and nose form a trunk. The tusks are used for digging roots and stripping bark from trees and also for fights with other elephants, and for defending themselves against predators.
The Wildebeest Migration
During the months between July and October, tourists can feast their eyes upon the wildebeest migration taking place.
Thousands of hooves trample across the soft grass between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara National Reserve in pursuit of rainfall. Walking for days on a quest for fresh grazing, water and a birthing haven for wildebeest, zebras, and other animals taking part in the migration.
The Wildebeest Migration is a hotspot for tourists as they eagerly await the sight of thousands of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles to cross the river, following the rains.
The mighty wildebeest or “wild beast” earned its name because of its menacing appearance consisting of a large head, pointed beard, and sharp horns.
The wildebeest is a mammal which forms part of the antelope family. Wildebeest, also known as Gnu, can be found in the central, southern and eastern parts of Africa and prefer green plains and open woodlands.
Although the zebra similarly looks like a horse with striped pyjamas, it’s part of the Equidae family allowing them to evolve separately.
Zebras are notorious for the stripes decorating most parts of their bodies. Interestingly, these stripes aren’t just there to look pretty, they have a purpose. The stripes are there for protection to make it difficult for predators to distinguish one zebra from another.
Gazelles are part of the antelope family, with slender limbs and long necks. Their bodies consist of a tan colour, a white belly and a dark coloured stripe along the side of its body.
These mammals feed in herds on the grasslands, often near zebras and wildebeest to stay safe from predators.
Things to do in the Reserve
- Safari drive: Travelers can partake in a safari drive with Africa Travel Co which takes you through the Maasai Mara to explore its wildlife and the people who live there.
- Experience the Wildebeest Migration: Travelers can experience the wildebeest migration which occurs annually.
- Visit the Mara river: This river is popular due to the wildebeest crossing this river during the migration. Here you’ll also catch a glimpse of the Nile crocodile.
- Bird watching: With over 400 bird species available, travelers can keep a lookout.