Masai Mara National Reserve – My take…
Masai Mara National Reserve is a park with a whole lot of wildlife and a great concentration that pretty much cannot be missed. The Big Five are among the 80 mammal species recorded in the park with over 500 resident and migratory bird species. In my 15 years as a safari/driver guide I have been to most of Kenya’s parks and reserves and vouch for Masai Mara as the favorite. It is my favorite particularly because growing up the park was only a short drive away.
In Masai Mara, the grassland dwellers are quickly conspicuous – the grazers, the prey, that enjoy the short grass – the zebra, antelope, gazelle, wildebeest. Where there is the prey, the predators will be close. The big cats, especially the lion, cheetah and hyena are common in the grasslands where the next meal is conveniently a chase away. Even though the elephant and giraffe are dependent on the woodlands and thickets, they, being as large and as tall, cannot hide and are easily observable towering the skyline.
Some of the resident animals in the Masai Mara are known by name both by the park authorities and by us the safari/driver guides. Karanja was one such well known long time resident, a famous black rhino that died only a few months ago of natural causes at the age of 43 years. Nonetheless there are still other animals equally famous both locally and internationally, some having been featured in widely broadcast wildlife programs like the Big Cat Diary. It was a great delight for me when I met Jonathan Scott, one of the renowned presenters of the Big Cat Diary series.
Masai Mara has been well highlighted by the wildebeest migration that was even declared as one of the wonders of the world. It is our busiest time, when the world visits to witness the migration from June/July – when the wildebeest arrive from the Serengeti, to October/ November when they go back. It is amazing to see over one million wildebeest travel together and occupy the Masai Mara, acquiring the title – the grass mowers of the Masai Mara. Although this is an yearly event, it never ceases to amaze.
On safari, it does not take much to notice the interesting nature of the wildlife; there is without doubt a majesty about the lion that leaves no question as to who the king of the jungle is. The cheetah and leopard also carry themselves with the pride of royalty. The Buffalo is no joker even though it deceptively looks like the domestic cow. It may not bite but is known to shift from calm to extreme fury in a split second and is one of the toughest animals in the wild. Birds of prey like the vulture, hawk and eagle have the unmistakable look of keen and dangerous hunters.
The aardwolf, brown hyena, giant forest hog and wild dogs are some of the rare species of the Mara that we safari guides are excited to come by. However there is an equally great sense of achievement when we come across the shy, elusive and mainly nocturnal leopard that prefers the dense riverine vegetation.
Looking at the wildlife as though for the first time every time shows the uniqueness of each. They even have a sense of fashion and beauty. The secretary bird and grey-crowned crane strut the savannah and pose with the sure confidence of beauty pageant winners. The Topi’s yellowish/brown legs different from the rest of the body look like they are covered in stockings. Sometimes their faces have a mud mask. The buffalo is also among the animals that find it necessary to wallow in mud and then go around caked in it. The elephant likes to shower with water and then with soil.
Apart from wildlife viewing, Masai Mara is a place of many interesting features. From a distance, it may not really be known what kind of places there are to stay in the park – the choices are as many as they are different – from simple to luxurious offering several leisure activities – walking safaris, horse riding, cultural visits and balloon safaris which are usually taken early in the morning. It is a whole different thing to see the park from the air. Some lodges and camps have fascinating entertainment in the evenings.
Masai Mara does not always offer the same thrill. Every day is a new story. Some safaris are nice and easy while some end up being dramatic adventures. It is a good thing to experience both.
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