The Maasai Mara was designated a National Reserve in 1974 and is under the authority of Narok County Council to whom park fees are paid. The Maasai Mara is part of the greater Serengeti-Mara ecosystem whose area of about 8,000km² is home to the largest terrestrial conglomeration of wildlife in the world, conservatively estimated at over 6 million animals.
The park gates are at Talek, Sekenani, Ololaimutiek, Sand River, Musiara, Oloololo and Mara Bridge. Scheduled flights from destinations in Kenya land at Musiara, Mara North, Mara Serena, Ol Kiombo, Kichwa Tembo, Ngerende, Siana and Keekorok. There are also a number of private airstrips where charter flights can land. The Mara River, the Talak River and the Sand River, with their various tributaries, springs and hippo pools, traverse the region.
Surrounding the reserve are conservancies and group ranches that provide a buffer zone for the reserve’s wildlife. The major conservancies are Olare Orok, Ol Kinyei, Mara North, Maji Moto Olarro, Naboisho and Ol Chorro Oirouwa; privately managed, they collect their own park fees and initiate their own conservation and community development projects. The Mara Triangle, to the west of the reserve, is managed by the Mara Conservancy, a private, non-profit organisation.
The Maasai Mara takes its name from the Maasai people, a nomadic, Nilotic people famed for their prowess as warriors. Cattle represent wealth to the Maasai, and are used not only for food but also for dowries, fines and sacrifices. During their lives, the Maasai pass through a series of rites of passage, ceremonies and celebrations that take them from initiation through the levels of warriors to the highly respected position of elder.
Mara means mottled in the language of the Maasai, a reference to the savannah plains speckled with riverine forests, mountain ridges and natural springs. It is this naturally varied ecosystem, dotted with distinctive ecotones, that provides the diversity of food types needed to support the proliferation of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and insects found here.
The Maasai Mara is perhaps best known for Africa’s most spectacular wildlife event, the Great Migration. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, together with zebra, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelle, impala, eland, topi and nomadic carnivores, flood north into the Mara in June, July and August, then sweep back into the Serengeti in September and October. The frenzied attacks of lions on the plains and of crocodiles in the rivers are gifts to photographers.
Game drives are the most popular activity in the reserve. Balloon safaris can be arranged at specific sites; most camps and lodges will assist with booking these. Game walks are not permitted in the reserve, but are on offer in the surrounding conservancies and group ranches. It is also possible to visit Maasai villages outside the reserve, to gain an insight into the culture and traditions of the local people.