Established in 1948, the Maasai Mara is an unfenced game reserve in Kenya, covering 1510 square kilometres at an average altitude of 2000m above sea level. The Maasai Mara is an extension of the Serengeti and is watered by the Mara and Telex rivers. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem covers 25,000km of preservation area. Each year approximately 290,000 tourists visit the park, making it the most visited park in Kenya. It is a game reserve, not a national park, meaning it is controlled by the local council.
The word “Mara” means “mottled or spotted” in the local language, probably referring to the invasion of wildebeest that occurs each year. The migration usually arrives in July or August and tends to return to the Serengeti in October, although changing weather patterns have made these timings increasingly difficult to predict. The Maasai Mara is a dry season refuge for 2.5 million animals and 570 species of bird, including 53 types of birds of prey. There are over 1000 elephants in the park with numbers increasing. Sadly there are only about 35-40 rhinoceros left, due to poaching.
The migration sees approximately 1.3-1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 350,000 Thomson’s gazelles move 1800 miles in a cycle. It did not occur until the 1960s when more herds were forced to use the Maasai Mara as a dry season refuge, as the rains between November and June create a magnet for game.
Between January and March around 400,000 wildebeest are born in the Serengeti. The trek starts in April as the plains dry up; the herd gathers and moves north-west joined by travelling lion, hyena and vultures. Only one out of three calves will see the Serengeti again. Herds arrive in the Western Corridor and feed until late May or June then move on into the Maasai Mara. Around July, they cross the Mara River. Animals that have already crossed wait for rest of herd, encouraging them. They spread out through the Maasai Mara and head back to the Serengeti by the end of October.
THE MAASAI PEOPLE
The Maasai Mara area has been inhabited by Maasai people for over 200 years. The Maasai migrated from the Sudan into Kenya around the mid-18th century. They fought for control and by the 19th century occupied much of the country. In 1904, the Maasai were moved into two reservations and in 1911 they were pushed into one. There are approximately 840,000 Maasai in Kenya nowadays.
The Maasai live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, focused on cattle rearing. They believe in Enkai, a tradition that says when god separated the sky and earth he left the cows, and cows are linked to grass and grass to land. They believe land is very sacred and will not pierce land, not even to bury the dead. In days gone by, no-one owned land either. Traditionally, the Maasai do not kill cows but use the milk, blood, skins and manure as they consider cattle as a sign of wealth. Cattle are used in many ceremonies such as marriage and circumcision with white cattle having special significance.
Maasai society is governed by many rules. They go through life with their age group peers starting with circumcision for both women and men from the age of 12 or 13 years. Boys are not allowed to show pain, but girls can. Until they are circumcised, boys can be beaten and scolded as children; circumcision marks a person as an adult and a Maasai cannot get married until they undergo this ceremony.
Young warriors live in a manyatta, while married men live in an Enkang; both are a collection of huts, the only difference is in who lives there.
Once married, women leave their parents’ home to go to their husband’s village. Marriages are arranged by the groom’s parents, who choose a suitable wife for their son. Intermarriage is governed by strict rules and polygamy is accepted. A man can have as many wives as he can afford, but each wife must have her own house. If a couple decide to separate, any children will stay with their father, while the wife is the one to leave the village. As men become elders, they mark this by having their heads shaved.
The Maasai have resisted direct rule by the government, and remain a proud and independent people. Stricter laws have taken power away from the elders and reduced the young warrior traditions of tribal fighting and cattle-raiding. Challenges are also faced as they lose both grazing land and their ability to roam freely like their nomadic ancestors did.
OTA invites you on safari in November 2013, travelling from Nairobi to Kigali via the Maasai Mara. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book your seat today.