Masai Mara National Reserve
Kenya’s premier wildlife park is Masai Mara National Reserve. The park was originally established in 1948 as a wildlife sanctuary and covered only 520 sq km of the current area, including the Mara Triangle. In 1961 the area was extended to the east to cover 1,821 km and converted to a Game Reserve to protect wildlife from hunters.
The park is named after the Maasai people and their description of the area when looked at from afar. In Maa, (the Maasai language), Mara means spotted – which perfectly describes the circles formed by trees, scrub, savannah and the cloud shadows that float across the land. The Masai Mara National Reserve lies in the Great Rift Valley. The rift through the valley is a fault line that is about 3,500 miles (5600 km) long, and extends from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and ending in Mozambique.
The valley is wide and is enclosed by a towering escarpment. Most of the game viewing occurs on the valley floor. Masai Mara is made up of hilly grassland which is fed by plentiful rain, especially during the wet months between November and June. The areas bordering the Mara River are forested and are home to hundreds of bird species. Masai Mara is also famous for its exceptional population of big cats and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and wildebeest from the Serengeti every July to October.
The park lies about 270 km from Nairobi and the journey to Masai Mara takes 4 to 5 hours by road. One can also catch a 45-minute flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi. They have two daily scheduled flights which land in one of the three airstrips – Keekorok, Olkiombo or Musiara.
Masai Mara has the highest concentration of wildlife, including the Big Five – elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo. Other animals that an adventure-lover can see in this amazing park are; cheetah, zebra, antelope, wildebeest, oribis, hyena, giraffe, warthog, gazelle, hartebeest, hippo, topi, and baboon. Crocodiles are seen regularly in the Mara River. The park has the largest concentration of African lions, including the rarer black-mane lions. For avid bird watchers birdlife is as plentiful as wildlife. The Mara is home to over 400 different bird species which include large birds like the secretary bird, crowned crane, long-crested eagles, vultures, hornbills, and marabou storks.