Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
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Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is the natural continuation of the Serengeti wastelands in Tanzania. With its 1,800 km2 large reserve, Maasai Mara is the most wildlife rich place in the world. Maasai Mara is located in the southern part of Kenya in the Narok County and is part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem which also includes the neighboring conservancy Enonkishu, Mara Naboisho, Mara North, Ol Kinyei and Olare Motorogi. The Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is also known for the biggest animal show in the world that takes place every year from July until the end of October. It is better known as The Great Migration where 1.4 million wildebeests, 500,000 gazelles, and 200,000 zebras move in a quest for the best pastures, finding along the way the crocodile-crowded river.
Maasai Mara's location and altitude, above 1,500 meters, yield a climate which is milder and damper than in other regions. Maasai Mara National Reserve is protected as a reserve and not as a national park, therefore not managed by Kenya Wildlife Service but by the local authorities, namely District Councils. The income from the parks goes to the development of the local Maasai community. The management of the Maasai Mara National Reserve has been divided between two councils Trans Mara and Narok council. The Trans Mara council has management over the western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve also called the Mara Triangle, and Narok council has management over the rest of the reserve on the eastern side of the Mara River.
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem covers approx. 25,000 km2 of primarily open grassland crossing the southern part of Kenya and into the northern part of Tanzania. In Mara you experience a varied landscape. Floods, waving grasslands, disperse woods- and bush areas, and to the west, a soil button that show signs of prehistoric volcanic activity. The western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve is bordered by the Siria Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley that stretches more than 150 meters high. A visit to Maasai Mara is a guarantee for a first class safari experience.
The Mara Triangle has only one lodge within its boundaries, the Mara Serena Safari Lodge is located in the center of the Mara Triangle right next to the Mara River. The Mara Serena Safari Lodge is set high on bush-cloaked hill with a panoramic view over the savannah and down to the winding coils of the Mara River filled with hippos and crocodiles. The rangers patrol regularly the Mara Triangle which results in very little poaching and therefore excellent wildlife habitat all year around. On the Narok controlled area of the Maasai Mara National Reserve numerous camps and lodges are to be found, there is also more tourism in the eastern part of the Mara reserve compared to the Mara Triangle.
To the north of the Mara Triangle is bordered by the Mara North Conservancy which is a stunning private wilderness area of more than 30,000 hectares. It is a vital part of Maasai Mara ecosystem as it forms the north western part of the protective zone. The Mara North Conservancy is a partnership of camps in the area and the local Maasai people. It is run as a non-profit company with the aim of creating a long term commitment to the environment. It is one of the most populated wildlife areas within the Greater Mara ecosystem. The Mara North Conservancy is home to Leopard George, a vital birthing and maternity area for the big cats. It also home to the scenic Lemek hills, which is an important refuge to African wild dogs that are a highly threatened. The Mara North Conservancy has a professional management that focuses on minimizing the impact on the vulnerable environment by having low density tourism and vehicle numbers.
To the very north of The Mara North Conservancy is the Enonkishu Conservancy, the focus is on livestock improvements through innovative cattle management programs. The Enonkishu Conservancy habitat comprises of wooded acacia tree savannah, it has rocky and undulating hills which provide a varied habitat. The Mara River runs alongside the conservancy and has many crocodiles and hippos in the section of the river that borders the conservancy. A Pride of lions are usually found at the edge of Enonkishu and Ol Choro Oiroua and the conservancy is frequently visited by groups of elephants. Enonkishu Conservancy offers an incredible game viewing experience with rare species such as caracal, aardwolf, aardvark and serval cat.
To the east of the Mara North Conservancy lies the Olare Motorogi Conservancy which has become a template for community wildlife conservancy as a blueprint for the sustainability of the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The Olare Motorogi Conservancy offers unique viewing of wildlife rarely found anywhere else on the savannah of the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The conservancy has a good population of both herbivores and predators including the famous big cats. The area has many elephants and sightings of both rhino and wild dogs on occasion.
To the east of the Olare Motorogi Conservancy lies the Mara Naboisho Conservancy which is home to the big cats and an impressive numbers of giraffe, elephants and wildebeest. The Mara Naboisho Conservancy is a bird watcher's paradise with specifies rarely found elsewhere, such as the White-headed Buffalo-Weavers, Pigmy Falcon, Bush Pipits and White-Crowned Shrike. The conservancy has focus on the impact on the environment, and therefore has a low density of tourist and vehicles which gives an exclusive wildlife experience.
To the east of the Mara Naboisho Conservancy lies the Ol Kinyei Conservancy which is a pioneering and award winning conservancy and the first conservancy in the Greater Mara ecosystem. To promote wildlife conservation the conservancy is a livestock exclusion zone. A pride of lions with over 30 is resident in Ol Kinyei Conservancy as well as leopards and more than 300 types of birds.
Attraction: Hot Air Balloon Safari and breakfast
There are several places in the Mara from where you can experience a Hot Air Balloon trip. It is really a breathtaking moment to float silently over the savannah and experience the sunrise as the wildlife wakes up. It is one of those experiences where you relax and absorb the moment as the savannah is waking up, it will fill you with enough memories to last a lifetime. The Hot Air Balloon Safari flight usually takes an hour, after a safe landing on the savannah a team is standing by to greet you with a luxurious champagne breakfast on the savannah. Having your breakfast in the wild completes the experience while you can relax while experiencing close encounters with the wildlife as they pass by.
As the Hot Air Balloon is an experience of a lifetime, it is a good idea to bring a hat to protect your head from the heat of the gas burners.
Attraction: Walking safari
Inside the Maasai Mara National Reserve it is not possible to conduct a walking safari, however, it is possible in neighbouring conservancy such at the Mara Naboisho Conservancy. It is a very remarkable experience as you walk among the wildlife on the savannah. It gives a different perspective of your safari experience, as you with your heightened senses moves through the bushes and high grass. Your are accompanied by Maasai Warriors as they are there to guide you as well to protect you against any wildlife getting too close.
On a walking safari you will also get a chance to focus on animal tracking and the smaller parts of the ecosystem, such as the construction of termite mounds and the variety of birdlife in the area you are visiting. A walking safari in the Mara ecosystem is a very different experience than the view from a safari vehicle, and you never know what you will encounter as you walk through the bush. Maasai Warrior guides will share their knowledge about the wildlife as you encounter it, it is one of those experiences that stays with you forever.
Attraction: Night safari
A night safari is a very unique experience to the daily safari as you can experience wildlife that can not be sighted during the day. Hippos like to grass on the banks and come up during the night or the early morning due to their sensitive skin that easily gets burned from direct sunlight.
Most predators like lions, hyenas and jackals prefer to hunt during the night and early mornings, so that is a good chance of getting a complete different experience from a night safari. Nocturnal animals that cannot be sight during the day adds a bonus to the safari experience as the night unfolds the life on the savannah in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
People and Culture
The Maasai people whom the park is named after, are to be found all around the reserve. Their characteristic round village, where the children takes care of the large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats adds an exciting look to the scenery. A visit to one of the villages is a very popular element on a safari.
Maasai Mara National Reserve has an exceptional population of predators like hyena, lions, leopards, and cheetahs which are rich represented all over the park. It is not without reason, where there is easy prey there is also food for many predators. Even the rare black rhino is regularly seen in areas with scrub, elephants are to be seen in large or less herds all over the Mara reserve, where they spend most of their time eating, a grown elephant needs daily approx 250 kg of vegetable food. At the Mara River there are popular Hippo pools where you can experience large population of hippos, crocodiles, and an exciting rich bird life.
During the period of the Great Migration wildebeest, zebra and gazelle such as Thomson and Topi migrate into Maasai Mara from the Serengeti plains. The annual event is a really spectacular and the biggest highlight of Maasai Mara. The herds usually start to arrive in July with the big herds arriving in the beginning of August and stay until mid September, even though the big herds leave the plains of Maasai Mara and migrate back to Serengeti for fresh grass, there is still herds left in the Mara all the way through October. Having said that, nothing is concrete since we are dealing with wild animals. The driving force for migrating herds is fresh grass, and as long there are fresh grass to eat they will stay. It is not the complete migrating herd that is visiting the Maasai Mara, it is estimated that approximately half is staying behind in the northern part of Serengeti.
The Big Five is to be found in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros. The population of black rhinos is the Mara has grown since the depletion of poaching in the early 1980s, they are however still in very low numbers and it is not a guarantee that you will experience a sighting while on a safari in the Mara.
Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya lies around 260 km from Nairobi, and is accessible within five to six hours drive from Nairobi or Lake Nakuru.
Lodges and camps
Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya can offer all kinds of accommodations, from 5 star luxurious lodges and tented camps to more primitive and humble camping facilities. You do not have to stay within the reserve premises, the animals do not know where the border lines are anyway, and the lodges outside the reserve premises can offer night safaris, which are not allowed within the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Depending on the season, two to six days can easily be spent in the area. A stay of four nights or more, it is recommended to stay in two different locations when visiting Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. There is a better chance of seeing a bigger variety of animal by having two reference points to start your safari from.