The Masai Mara Game Reserve is the most wildlife-rich region in Kenya. Especially the spectacular migrations of millions of wildebeest and zebra attract almost as many tourists every year.
The Masai Mara Game Reserve, also referred to simply as “Masai Mara,” is located in southern Kenya on the border with Tanzania. The stunning wildlife sanctuary in the Serengeti is the most famous in Kenya and directly borders Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to the south.
The Masai Mara covers an area of about 1500km² and is located at an altitude of about 1,500m above sea level. From Nairobi it can be reached by plane in about an hour and by car in 4-5 hours. Its name is a reference to the Maasai people who live in the area and “mara” means spotted, referring to the solitary umbrella acacias characteristic of Africa, which cover the sandy-yellow savannah of Kenya like a sea of green dots. In addition to these trees, the plant life of the Masai Mara consists largely of extensive grass savanna, broken by a few inselbergs and a narrow strip of forest along the Mara River.
Wildebeest and zebra migrate by the thousands
Those who visit the Masai Mara do not come for the flora. The world’s largest herds of ungulates gather annually in the Masai Mara, making the nature reserve the most animal- and species-rich region in Kenya. One and a half million herbivores and thousands of species of predators populate the grasslands of the Serengeti. Once a year, from July to October, millions of wildebeest migrate in 40km-long trains from the southern Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Plains in northern Tanzania to the Masai Mara. They are accompanied by thousands of gazelles, antelopes and zebras, as well as about a thousand elephants and smaller groups of giraffes, springboks and kudus. The journey takes them over 8,000 kilometers to the various waterholes and grazing grounds until they return to Tanzania after extensive rainfall in the south.
This forced march is by no means without danger for the animal herds. Countless hungry predators are constant companions of the gigantic herds, above all the proud lion, but also leopards and cheetahs, hyenas and jackals. Thus in the Masai Mara the chance is relatively large to meet Africa’s “Big Five”, as lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros are also gladly called.
What also makes the Masai Mara so popular is its manageability. Due to the few free-standing trees, one has a good view of the spectacular herds and their hungry pursuers even from further away. For this reason, trips to the Masai Mara are often called “safari with predator guarantee”.
Especially at the Mara River, where ungulates gather by the millions to drink, with a bit of luck you can observe a crocodile, cheetah or pride of lions on the prowl. Unfortunately, for this very reason, one must expect not only thirsty animals but also countless safari cars to gather at the Mara River.
Tip: It is advisable to book an off-road car with a small number of people. Then you can stop at any time and enjoy the overwhelming sights extensively and do not have to join the herd again immediately.
But even without the migration of the herds, the Masai Mara offers a spectacular picture book landscape to the astonished visitors. The sandy grass is punctuated by emerald green umbrella acacias and an incredible array of wildlife. At first, you are overwhelmed by the wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, antelope and buffalo and don’t know which way to point your camera first. Once you have digested the first impressions, you can take your time to look for the “more difficult” animals, such as lion, cheetah, leopard and rhino.
Tip: A balloon safari including a champagne breakfast is an unforgettable experience. The hot air balloon takes off at dawn and floats over the breathtaking landscape of Kenya into the sunrise.
There are plenty of tented camps and lodges in the Masai Mara. The accommodations are not quite inexpensive, but they are comfortable. Even tented camps offer bath and hot water.
Danger and protection of the Masai Mara
Kenya’s government recognizes the importance of the Masai Mara for both wildlife and tourism and has taken steps to protect the herds and their habitat. Rangers watch day and night to ensure that Masai Mara animals are not illegally killed by poachers, and the Maasai receive compensation for cattle killed by lions to prevent them from hunting the predatory cats themselves.
Nevertheless, the population of wild animals is not as large as it was 30 years ago. After the unrest in the wake of the presidential elections in 2007, there was a decline in tourism. As a result, not as many rangers could be employed and many proud wild animals met an undignified end as a hunting trophy. Also the growing Maasai villages with their fenced wheat fields and partly illegal cattle herds contribute to the decline of the animal population. The population of Kenya is constantly growing and the people need habitat and food just as much as the animals of Africa. In addition, the animals are used to humans and therefore easy prey even for young Maasai warriors who want to prove their manhood and stab lions with their spears.
Bloody souvenirs: Unfortunately, there are always tourists who happily buy python skins, ostrich eggs, skins and ivory carvings from the Maasai warriors. One can only emphasize again and again to take distance urgently from these death-bringing mementos. Only in this way can poaching in the Masai Mara perhaps be completely curbed at some point.