The Masai Mara
The Maasai Mara (also spelled Masai Mara) is a large park reserve in south-western Kenya, within the Great Serengeti region, and is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park and 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 September and October, a migration so immense to be called the Great Migration.
With an area of 1510 km² the 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.
Masai Mara's Wildlife
The Maasai Mara is perhaps most famous for its lions, which are found in large numbers. All other members of the "Big Five" are to be found in the 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 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 Maasai 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 Maasai 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 Maasai 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.