Archive for July, 2010
Masai Mara Game Reserve: Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya:
Masai Mara is located in south-western Kenya, bordering Serengeti National Park, on the Tanzania border. Altitude: 1,500 – 2,100 meters.
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s finest wildlife sanctuary. Everything about this reserve is outstanding. The wildlife is abundant and the gentle rolling grassland ensures that animals are never out of sight. Birds too are prolific, including migrant birds and 57 species of birds of prey.
Fauna & Flora:
Open grasslands with patches of acacia woodland, thickets, and riverine forests. In the dry season July-October) the reserve is a major concentration area of migratory herbivores including approximately 250,000 zebra and 1.3 million wildebeest. There are also gazelle, elephant, topi, buffalo, lion (Kenya’s largest population), black rhino, hippo, hyena, giraffe, leopard, and mongoose. The bird life is prolific, including 53 species of birds of prey.
The climate is gentle, rarely too hot and well spread rainfall year round. When it rains, its is almost always in the late afternoon or night. Between July and October, when the great wildebeest migration is in the Mara the sensation is unparalleled. The wildlife is far from being confined within the Reserve boundaries and an even larger area, generally referred to as the ‘dispersal area’ extends north and east of the game Reserve.
Maasai live within the dispersal area with their stock but centuries of close association with the wildlife has resulted in an almost symbiotic relationship where wildlife and people live in peace with one another.
The first sight of this park is breathtaking. Here the great herds of shuffling elephants browse among the rich tree-studded grasslands with an occasional sighting of a solitary and ill-tempered rhino, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, topi and eland and many more species of plains’ game offer a rich choice of food for the dominant predators; lion, leopard and cheetah which hunt in this pristine wilderness.
In the Mara River, hippo submerge at the approach of a vehicle only to surface seconds later to snort and grumble their displeasure. But this richness of fauna, this profusion of winged beauty and the untouched fragility of the landscape, are all subordinate to the Mara’s foremost attraction, the march of the wildebeest.
After exhausting the grazing in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti National Park, a large number of wildebeest and zebra enter Masai Mara around the end of June drawn by the sweet grass raised by the long rains of April and May. It is estimated that more than half a million wildebeest enter the Mara and are joined by another 100,000 from the Loita hills east of the Mara. Driving in the midst of these great herds is an unimaginable experience.
Whilst the eyes feast on the spectacle, the air carries the smells, the dust and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of animals. There is nowhere else on earth to compare with this wildlife marvel. Once the Mara grass has been devoured and when fresh rain in Tanzania has brought forth a new flush there, the herds turn south, heading hundreds of kilometers back to Serengeti and the Ngorongoro plains.
There the young are dropped in time to grow sufficiently strong to undertake the long march north six months later.
Apart from the better known species, there are also other rare ones that can be added to the visitor’s checklist. These include the roan antelope, the Bat-eared foxes and thousands of topi. The combination of a gentle climate, scenic splendor and untold numbers of wildlife makes the Masai Mara National Reserve Kenya’s most popular inland destination.
Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration Overview:
May & June
In late May, the herds leave the Western Corridor for the northern Serengeti plains and woodlands. The fresh, tender and mineral-rich pastures on the other side of the humans’ border, in Masai Mara, are the irresistible bait for the animals to finally invade the Kenyan reserve, an event which usually starts in late June to early July. The troops coming from the south meet here another migratory contingent: the resident wildebeest herds of the Mara region. These animals reside in the Loita Plains and Hills, northeast of the Mara, until the dry season brings the tougher days and it is time to seek the evergreen Mara basin.
July to October.
Throughout the month of July, the herds cross the Sand River, a mostly dry tributary of the Mara which roughly follows the boundary line between Kenya and Tanzania. The parade takes the eastern sector of Masai Mara, surrounding the Keekorok Lodge area. The trek follows westward, leading the herds to face the major challenge along their quest: crossing the Mara river and frequently also its tributary, the Talek. By then, the rains at the Mau Escarpment, where the Mara rises, have fed the stream to its highest levels.
The steep banks are populated with trunk-looking basking crocodiles that seem almost to be expecting their annual banquet. The operation of fording the river is the most delicate along the migration, and as such seems to plunge the gnus in a state of anxiety that only relieves when the whole herd has crossed. The trekkers walk along the left (eastern) bank of the Mara looking for a suitable point to cross. There are plenty of preferred crossings along the course, which are easily identifiable by the lack of vegetation, the depressed slopes and the deep grooves carved by the animals’ hooves. These are the most secure places to ford the river, those that ensure a minimal mortality. Nonetheless, the apparent programming of the whole process sometimes seems to collapse, and the nervous herds occasionally choose places where the banks are too steep and many of the animals break their legs down the cliff or fall flat into the waters. The herds gather at the suitable points and wander around nervously, their grunts sounding loud in the air. Eventually, one animal takes the lead and approaches the rim, scanning the opposite edge to analyze if any danger awaits after the crossing. When it finally dives into the stream, this seems to haul the rest of the herd. More animals follow in a single line across the river, while the lagged ones throw themselves towards the stream until the rearguard pushes the troops to a frantic race that ends up with some animals trampled to death, lying aside the course. Along the boreal summer, the crossings repeat over and over, and the survivors graze peacefully on the Mara Triangle grasslands unless disturbed by the early-morning and late-evening hunts of lion and cheetah, the latter preying on the calves.
By October, the rains are heading south back to the Serengeti. This is when the pace of the march reverses, bringing the herds to face once more the quest for the southern grasslands. The rite of fording the river is again part of nature’s call. In the last days of October, the migration heads towards the vast plains of the southern Serengeti, where a new generation of calves will be born to start the cycle of life all over again. Normally the route is down the eastern side and the pace is fast. Quite often a million animals can be seen stretched out. Getting there:
The point of road access to this region is Narok, a 3 hour drive from Nairobi. There are regular buses and matatus to Narok from Nairobi and other destinations. Some people choose to Fly to the Mara, which is serviced by 2 airstrips. There are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi, and the coast. Private Charters also use these strips.
Accessing the Mara area is difficult without private transport. Most visitors come to Masai Mara as part of a Safari package from Nairobi or in a Hire Car. The park has well established internal roads and tracks. Accessing areas outside the reserve is only possible using basic public transport, and finding your way around can be difficult. Several Safari operators can arrange specialized tours, treks or hikes in this area.