MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE
In September 2017 our chairman James Welch visited the Maasai Mara Ecosystem as part of a volunteering trip. This section of the website written first hand hopes to give everything an understanding of the trip.
The idea of this visit was to get a better understanding of the problems lions face in the wild and to see the threats first hand. As well as seeing the fragile habitat this also gave a brilliant opportunity to see lions in the wild and to get to see wild lion behaviour first hand. This section of the website aims to give you an idea and some history of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The home of 'Big Cat Diary' and the setting of countless nature documentaries watched by millions all over the world. Often hailed as the 8th wonder of the world this spectacular place is visited by thousands every year desperate to see the wildlife on its iconic wildlife that seem to go off into the distance never ending.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve stretches for 1,510 square kilometres or 580 square miles. To put this into context of how large this is for those in Britain my home county of Bedfordshire is only 465 square miles.
The Maasai Mara is home to one of the most spectacular sightings on the planet, when in June the wildebeest and zebra populations from the Serengeti arrive in their thousands as they migrate to the grassy plains in search of new food. They join the herds from the Loita Plains who have a much closer commute to the lush green plains than those from Tanzania. Once the grass green from the long rains in May is nothing of use to the great herds they head back to Tanzania to their birthing grounds of the Serengeti. The following information is inspired from the text from Brian Jackman's and Jonathan Scott's brilliant book 'The Marsh Lions'.
The Maasai have lived in this area of Kenya for centuries but did not occupy the vast grass and bush of the Mara due to the heavy populations of tsetse fly living in the bush. 'Mara' in Maa, the common language of all Maasai tribes means 'The Spotted Land' - inspired by the depth of scattered bush originally found in the Mara. Once the hunters arrived and shooting became incredibly common after the second world war roads became cleared through the bush and the local tribesman fired the land to clear it. The firing of the bush allowed the Maasai to repopulate the vast grasslands as the tsetse fly that had not allowed the Maasai and the cattle to enter happily had no bush to cling on to.
In 1889 tragedy struck the local people and their cattle was struck with rinder-pest and the tribes were struck with smallpox. When the first European settlers arrived the Mara was rich with game and the trophy hunting began, quickly wiping out the impressive lions and the huge herds of big game that the Mara was so famous for. in 1948 the 'Mara Triangle' became a National Reserve. This 200 mile square area is situated to the left hand corner of the Maasai Mara, in between the escarpment, Mara river and the Tanzanian border. In 1961 500 square miles were added to form the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The hunting of wildlife and human settlement within the Reserve ended and wildlife was given the chance to thrive.
In the past the Maasai have always lived in seemingly cooperative harmony with the wildlife, proof shown by the truly massive herds of wildlife seen when the first explorers arrived. What with the huge rise in population growth over the last fifty years, this has seen a catastrophic impact on the Mara as the tribes grow and their herds of cattle in which they are so reliant continue to grow in number, and whose reliance on grass continues to compete with that on the native wildlife.
Above all the Mara is famous for the abundance of the famous 'Big Five' - elephant, black rhino, cape buffalo, leopard and of course the lion. Although the rhino is now no longer as plentiful as they once were, only 40 rhino are thought to be living in the Reserve, now much more plentiful in other reserves throughout Kenya.
The big cats have bade made famous when 'Big Cat Diary' started filming in the late 1990's with the BBC. With that and the rising popularity of Nature documentaries, the lions of the Mara are possibly one of the most famous in the world. The most famous of these lions are a pride known to the Mara as the 'Marsh lions' due to the Musiara Marsh that they inhabit.
LIONS OF THE MARA
For more information on the lions within the Naboisho Conservancy please click here.
TALKING WITH THE MAASAI
For a look at the challenges that face the Maasai and they way of life please click here.
The Maasai Mara without a doubt is an incredible place, it's vast plains going on for miles as far as the eye can see. Offering the animals the freedom that they deserve. Of course the success of the Mara and the protection of the animals rely partly from the popularity of the area, the tourism aspect that needs the animals to remain in order to keep being a popular destination for tourists all over the world. However the growing population of the local people and the distractions from the western world add to the intensity of the conflict between humans and the wildlife. Fortunately local schemes such as the creation of the conservancies within the dispersal zone give benefits to both the wildlife and the people. More information can be found here.