One of the most well known safari destinations in Africa is the Masai Mara. Together with the Serengeti it is home to some of the greatest concentrations of wildlife on Earth and is the stage for the Great Migration.
In southwestern Kenya, in the Kenya Rift Valley Province, lies 583 square miles (1,510 square kilometers) of protected land known as the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It was established in 1961 and is a popular safari destination, renowned for its wildlife population. The wildlife roam freely across the boundaries of the reserve into areas with several villages, where animals and humans coexist.
Also known as Masai Mara, Maasai Mara or simply the Mara, the reserve lies at between 4,875 and 7,052 feet (1486 and 2149 meters) in elevation and extends south to Serengeti National Park. The name comes from the local Maasai people, who called this expanse of land “Mara,” or spotted, in their native language of Maa, because of the way the acacia trees and wildlife dotted the plains.
A diverse group of animals call the Maasai Mara home, including Africa’s “big five” (the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, African lion and African black rhino). Cheetahs, wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, hyenas, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, more than 500 bird species and many more residents can also be found across the reserve.
An estimated 250,000 wildebeest never make it to their destination, as they fall prey to carnivores, die of hunger, thirst or exhaustion, or drown in the Mara River, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The fallen animals, however, provide a wealth of food and nutrients for the ecosystem.
The great migration occurs during the main dry season, which lasts from June through October. The two wet seasons, a short one and a long one, occur between November and December and March and May, respectively. Due to Kenya’s location at the equator, temperatures there remain fairly constant throughout the year, with daytime temperatures of about 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) during the dry season and 81 F (27 C) during the wet season.
Average annual rainfall is about 1 meter (3 feet) per year, with nearly 80% of the rain falling during the wet season. During the dry season, many of the temporary lakes and rivers dry up, leaving the one permanent body of water in the region, the Mara River, to provide for both the Maasai Mara and Serengeti regions.
The Maasai people, known for their fierce warriors and bright red robes, were once one of the dominating native tribes in Kenya. They are one of the few who have retained much of their traditions and lifestyles.
The Maasai moved into the highlands of what is now Kenya in the early 17th century and spread across what became Kenya and south into what is now Tanzania soon after. They were semi-nomadic, moving with their prized cattle herds to different areas during the wet and dry seasons to prevent any one area from becoming overgrazed.
As with most other African tribes, however, the Maasai lost much of their fertile lands and parts of their culture when European settlers moved into the territory. The Maasai people are no longer nomadic and are now settled in a single location, where they depend on local agriculture and tourism to sustain their lifestyle and traditions.