MASAI MARA NATIONAL PARK KENYA
The Masai Mara (also spelled Maasai Mara) is a large park reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. Named for the Maasai tribespeople (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and the Mara River which divides it, it is famous for its exceptional population of game and the annual migration of the wildebeest every July and August, a migration so immense it is called the Great Migration.
With an area of 1510 km² the Masai Mara is not the largest game park in Kenya, but it is probably the most famous. The entire area of the park is nestled within the enormous Great Rift Valley that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to South Africa. The terrain of the reserve is primarily open grassland, with clusters of the distinctive acacia tree in the south-east region. The western border is the Esoit Oloololo Escarpment of the Rift Valley, and wildlife tends to be most concentrated here, as the swampy ground means that access to water is always good and tourist disruption is minimal. The easternmost border is 224 km from Nairobi, and hence it is the eastern regions which are most visited by tourists.
The Masai Mara is perhaps most famous for its lions. All other members of the “Big Five” are to be found in the Masai Mara, although the population of black rhinoceros is severely threatened, with a population of only 37 recorded in 2000. Hippopotami are found in large groups in the Masai Mara and Talek Rivers. Cheetah are also to be found, although their numbers are also threatened, chiefly due to tourist disruption of their day-time hunting. As mentioned above, the plains between the Mara river and the Esoit Oloololo Escarpment are probably the best area for game viewing, in particular regarding lion and cheetah.
Like in the Serengeti, the wildebeest are the dominant inhabitant of the Masai Mara, and their numbers are estimated in the millions. Around July of each year these ungainly animals migrate in a vast ensemble 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 an immensity of hervibores: some 1,300,000 Wildebeest, 360,000 Thomson’s Gazelle, and 191,000 Zebra. These numerous migrants are followed along their annual, circular route by a block of hungry predators, most notably lions and hyena.
Numerous other antelope can be found, including Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, impala, topi and Coke’s hartebeest. Large herds of zebra are found through the reserve. The plains are also home to the distinctive Masai giraffe as well as the common giraffe. The large Roan antelope and the nocturnal bat-eared fox, rarely present elsewhere in Kenya, can be seen within the reserve borders. The Masai Mara is a major research centre for the spotted hyena. Additionally, over 450 species of birdlife have been identified in the park, including vulture, marabou, secretary bird, hornbill, crowned crane, ostrich, long-crested eagle, and pygmy falcon.
The Masai Mara is administered by the Mara conservancy,under contract with the (Transmara county council) a local non profit organization formed by the local Maasai, and contains a number of anti-poaching units that are stationed well away from the regions frequented by tourists. Game parks are a major source of hard currency for Kenya, and entry fees (as of April 2006) for adult non-Kenyans is US$40 ($10 for children). There are a number of lodges and tented camps for tourists inside the reserve’s borders.The tourists/visitors cater for their own expenses unless prior arranged by their agencies.
Lodges and camps inside the reserve include Mara Serena, Governor’s camp, Siana Springs tented camp, Mara simba, Keekorok, and Sarova Mara. Outside the reserve borders are Mara Sopa, Elephant Pepper, Royal Mara Safari Lodge and Sekenani camp.
Mara Serena Airport and Keekorok Airport are located in Masai Mara.