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Information about the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara epitomises many people's idea of safari.
Fed on images of the great wildebeest migration, some visitors may inevitably be disappointed, because they haven't realised that the huge numbers of wildebeest aren't actually in Kenya during most of the year! This is an important point to bear in mind if seeing the migration is important to you - the wildebeest are in various parts of the contiguous Serengeti National Park in Tanzania for most of the year, and come up into the Masai Mara in late June or early July and leave in late October or early November. Therefore, to see the best numbers, visit the Mara in August or September. Otherwise, see the migration in the Serengeti. There is at present no border crossing directly between the two reserves; only the animals and birds don't recognise the political boundary! Much of the information below is taken from Guidebook to the Masai Mara Reserve, an excellent little booklet published by Friends of Conservation and available in many lodge/camp shops.

Mara Ecology

There are four topo-geographical types in the reserve
  • The Ngama Hills, which have shallow, porous, sandy soils and support a bushland community dominated by Croton dichogamus. This area is in the east of the reserve, between Keekorok Lodge and the Sekenani gate. This croton can be recognised because its leaves have silver undersides when young, and turn orange or red when the age. This is a good area to look for Black Rhinoceros.
  • The Siria Escarpment which forms the western boundary of the reserve.
    Together with the next sub-ecosystem, it receives the highest rainfall, but fires mean that the only thickets sruvive in gullies which are protected by fire.
  • The Mara Triangle, lying between the escarpment and the Mara River, has poorly drained clay soil known as 'black cotton' which are inundated during the rainy seasons. They support lush grasslands, rejuvenated by heavy grazing pressure and by fire.
  • The Central Plains between the Mara River and the Ngama Hills. These are rolling grasslands with scattered bush in drainage lines and on the tops of shallow hills.

The Grasslands

The most common grass in the Mara is red oat grass, Themeda triandra, which is favoured by grazers in the early stages of its growth. This is interspersed with other grass species and shrubsand other plants. The grasslands support an enormous mass and diversity of grazing herbivores.Each of these herbivores has a unique feeding strategy, which brings about a grazing succession. For example, zebras often come through an area first, since they are able to digest coarse, longer stems. This exposes the green, protein-rich grass which are favoured by the wildebeest and other large ruminants. When the grasslands have been cropped, newly growing shoots are exposed, and these are enjoyed by the Thomson's Gazelle

The Woodlands

Grasslands dotted with trees are called savanna woodlands. In the Mara, acacia woodland covers large areas. Seven species of acacia are found, the easiest to

recognise being Acacia brevispica, the wait-a-bit thorn, so named because of the backward curving thorns which require time to eradicate oneself if hooked, the Whistling Thorn, A. drepanolobium, and the attractive, yellow-barked Fever Tree A. xanthlophloea, which grows beside watercourses. The latter wasnamed because it was known to grow where people caught malaria, before people understood that the connection was with the mosquitoes which favoured the same wet areas.

The Riverine Forest

The gallery forest bordering parts of the Mara river and its tributaries is home to a wide variety of mammals and birds. This forest is very vulnerable to fire, and to clearance by Elephants. Various primates - Bushbabies, Monkeys and Baboons live here, as well as Tree Hyrax and forest antelopes like Bushbuck and Red Duiker.

The Rivers

The Mara river has its source in the Mau Escarpment, and flows to Lake Victoria. In the gentler, wider stretches, Hippos like to congregate in 'pools', and crocodiles, some very large, and Monitor Lizards bask on the banks or mid-stream rocks. Defassa Waterbuck are also found in this area.


About 60 'larger' mammals and over 450 bird species have been recorded for the Maasai Mara reserve.

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All text and images © Liz Leyden, 2008
Text based on Friends of Conservation booklet on the Masai Mara
Email: liz [at] v-liz [dot] com
May be used for non-profit personal or educational purposes only.
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