The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of the largest Game Reserves in Kenya, and the locals popularly know it as the Mara. The Mara Game Reserve is known all over the world for a wide range of wild animals such as cheetahs, lions, zebras, wildebeests, and Thomson’s gazelle.
The Game Reserve Is Shared By Two Countries
The Mara is located at the Tanzanian and Kenyan border, and on the Tanzanian side, it is known as the Serengeti National Park. Animals roam freely from the Tanzanian side to Kenyan side. However, some animals are residents on either side of the two countries while others migrate seasonally from Kenya to Tanzania and vice versa.
The Maasai Mara Was Established In 1961
Initially, the Mara was created as a wildlife sanctuary in 1961, and it covered an area of about 200 square miles. Later it was extended to the eastern side and the area increased to 703 square miles. It was subsequently transformed into a Game Reserve. At the time it was managed by the County Council of Narok. Presently, the whole Maasai Mara National reserve spans an area of 580 square miles.
The Name Has Tribal Origin
The name of the Maasai Mara is derived from the Maasai tribes who have lived in the region from time immemorial. The word Mara is a Maasai word that means “spotted” which is a description of the plains of the Maasai Mara when viewed from a distance and the trees and shrubs that seem to dot the Savannah plains. The Mara is part of the larger ecosystem of Mara, which includes several ranches in the area.
Maasai Mara Is Witness To The World's Largest Migration
The Maasai Mara is famed for the great wildlife migration, which is the largest of its kind in the world. Each year about 2 million animals that include wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles migrate for a distance of around 500 miles. Their journey starts from Serengeti in Tanzania, and they move up to Masai Mara in Kenya and then take the same route back to Tanzania. The largest population in Serengeti and Mara is accounted for by the wildebeest. Every year between July and September, the animals take the epic journey from Serengeti searching for fresh pasture and migrating southwards again towards October. The Great Migration is among the world’s natural wonders, which involves about 1.3 million wildebeests, 0.5 million gazelles, 0.2 million zebras, more than 90,000 topi, and about 18,000 elands.
You Can See The Big Five In Maasai Mara
The Mara is home to the African Big Five. The name refers to animals which are difficult to hunt on foot, and big game hunters coined the name. The Big Five include the elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, lion, and the buffalo. Unfortunately, these animals are often prey to trophy hunting operations in other parts of the continent.
Maasai Mara Is Not Just About Mammals
Maasai Mara has a wide range of bird species estimated to be more than 470. About 60 species of birds in Maasai Mara are raptors. Some of the birds that inhabit Maasai Mara include marabou storks, vultures, ostriches, crowned cranes, long-crested eagles, hornbills, secretary birds, African pygmy falcons, and lilac-breasted roller which is the Kenyan national bird. The whole of the Mara ecosystem is home to the highest population of ostriches in Africa.
Mara River Is The Lifeline Of The Maasai Mara
The Mara River, which crosses the Maasai Mara National Reserve, provides the lifeblood of the surrounding ecosystem. Without the water provided by the river, animals such as the wildebeest would not be migrating, and the environment would look very different. The river is also the primary supply of water for the local communities living nearby. Only 30% of the people in East Africa have access to that water and depend mainly on rivers. However, the Mara River is currently under pressure because the levels of water and its quality have significantly changed over the past few decades as a result of population growth, industrial activities, and the expanding agriculture.
Who Manages The Maasai Mara?
The Kenya Wildlife Service manages most of the game reserves and national parks in Kenya, but the County government of Narok manages the Maasai Mara. Initially, the Mara was managed by the defunct County council of Narok and the county council of Trans Mara. The local Maasai community has been involved in conservation efforts to contain poaching and other illegal activities.
Not All Is Good News In Maasai Mara
Wild animals living in the Mara are vulnerable to a variety of threats. Presently, the black rhino population of the region is listed as critically endangered. The main threat to these rhinos is poaching for their horns that are sold in the black market for the preparation of traditional medicines.
Between 1989 and 2003 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) funded a study which was carried out by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Maasai Mara and it was found that the loss of ungulate (hoofed) animals were as high as 80% for warthogs, 76% for hartebeest, 75% for giraffes, and 67% for impala. The study indicated that the high human population was responsible for the loss of wildlife, particularly the increasing human settlement around the reserved area. Increasing human population fosters more livestock grazing and higher rates of poaching.