The Masai Mara National Reserve is known world over for the high game concentrations and the classical African safari experience. It is located southwest of Kenya 270 km from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya where most international flights land. It borders the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the south and together they form the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem. This ecosystem is the venue for the famous annual wildebeest migration – an epic journey undertaken by a combination of more than 2 million wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle. Masai Mara National Reserve covers an area of 1,821 sq km/ 703 sq miles and is surrounded by a number of conservancies which offer more exclusive game viewing options.
How to get to the Masai Mara
The Mara is accessible by road from Nairobi, a comfortable 5-6 hours to Narok. The way from Narok to Sekenani gate is not tarmacked but it is not that bad either. The scenery along the way is good and a stop at Narok town should be on your to-do list. The other gates are; Oloolaimutia, Talek, Musiara, and Oloololo.
Traveling to the Mara by air is will save you a valuable 5 hours, 45 minutes to cover the 93 miles. There are several airstrips spread out around the park so depending on which part of the park you are visiting.
The Great Wildebeest Migration
The wildebeest migration is not an actual fixed event but an annual cyclic journey round the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem driven by the availability of water, pasture and nutrients. They stop a while at different points in the journey. In January February and March, the wildebeest stay at the short grass plains in the southern Serengeti. There’s a short synchronized calving period, about 2 weeks in February, during which about 400,000 wildebeest calves are born.
Around April, they start moving north in search of water and pasture. Around June the columns of migrating wildebeests start congregating around the Grumeti River, in the western corridor of the Serengeti. They cross the river with some casualties to the huge crocodiles, though not that much damage or action.
By June the pastures of the Western Corridor are exhausted and the migration moves north. When they get to the Mara River, they pause at different crossing points and the numbers start swelling up. They numbers grow and tension grows as the crocodiles patiently await the inevitable. Finally, the tension explodes and the first wildebeest, blocked from behind and actually being pushed forward, plunge into the river, rushing to cross before the deadly jaw snapping crocs can get to them.
What follows is a stampede like no other. It’s the height of the tourism seasons as the million plus mammals rush to cross the river, calves in tow. Columns of terrified wildebeest swim frantically across the river as those behind push forward. The crocodiles rush in picking almost at random along the lines of the terrified ungulates. The accompanying zebras add to the color. It is the perfect time to visit the Masai Mara. This goes on for days, sometimes weeks until the last of them is safely on the other side.
More action follows as the predators on this side of the river give the migration a rousing welcome. It’s a feeding frenzy for the lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyena’s. The new residents take time to settle in and mark territories as they spread out across the Masai Mara National Reserve. They move with the pasture until around October when they find their way back to the rivers and the crocs can feed again. They head back to the Northern Serengeti area going slowly south until about December when they finally settle for the year.
Masai Mara Wildlife and Birdlife
The wildlife in the Masai Mara includes all of Africa’s bib cats; lion, leopard, and cheetah. Smaller cats are the African wildcat, serval, and the caracal. Then there are Bat-eared Fox, Black-backed Jackal, Side-striped Jackal and the African Wild Dog. There are also many honey badgers, bushbabies, warthogs, Maasai giraffe, hippos, Nile crocodile, the common and defassa reedbucks. Impalas, bushbuck and common eland, African buffalo, African elephant, and zebras. There are a variety of monkeys and baboons, mongooses and hares. Masai Mara also hosts a lot of birdlife; both resident and migratory. More than 470 species have been recorded here. Hey include ostriches, vultures, secretary birds, African pygmy-falcons, marabou storks, hornbills, long-crested Eagles, crowned cranes, and the lilac-breasted roller, the national bird of Kenya.