THE MAASAI MARA
Named in honour of the Maasai people who call this corner of Africa home, the Mara is world renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, leopard, cheetah, herds-a-thousand-strong of buffalo, the rare black rhino and a thriving elephant population. In approximately July of each year, the Great Migration arrives in the Maasai Mara National Reserve for its annual four-month stay.
The Mara Triangle
West of the Mara River, beneath the Oloololo escarpment and bordered by Tanzania to the south lies the jewel of this great reserve: the Mara Triangle. Not only is this the most productive part of the entire Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in terms of grass nutrition, but it is also spectacularly scenic. The huge grassy plains are dotted with widely spaced Balanites trees that give the landscape an almost manicured look, which together with the steep-sided escarpment and broad Mara River, provides a breath-taking backdrop for wildlife photographers.
The Mara Triangle has been most efficiently managed by the Mara Conservancy for the past 15 years – evidenced in the guides’ discipline, successful anti-poaching efforts and impressive road infrastructure. For much of the year, the Mara Triangle has the lowest density of visitors in the Greater Maasai Mara, with just two lodges within its perimeters and a few on the northern border.
Covering over 500 square kilometres, the Mara Triangle includes seasonal marshes, open plains and gallery forest habitats, providing homes for a great diversity of mammals and birds. This is Angama Mara’s wonderland.
Maasai Mara Climate
Just a few degrees south of the equator, there are only minor fluctuations in the length of day and temperature over the year. What does vary however, is the rainfall: there are two distinct seasons, the long rains from mid-March through June; and the short rains during the months of November and early December. Clear bright mornings are the norm throughout most of the year, and in season, the rain tends to arrive in the afternoon and evening. Far from being a depressing event, the rain in the Mara is a life force. To be out in the midst of it – on the plains amongst the wildlife – is to be in the middle of nature’s celebration, and the approach of a storm is spectacular, with its darkening sky and accompanying lightning and thunder.
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem
Typically defined by the annual movement of over two million migratory wildebeest – these seasonal wanderers are just one element of the greater Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Numerous distinct habitat types exist, with soil type and rainfall being the main influences. The ecosystem is driest in the southeast (where the Crater Highlands form a ‘rain-shadow’) and wettest in the northwest – the Mara Triangle.
South of the Kenyan border, Tanzania’s Serengeti consists of various types of woodland and grassland. It is on the ‘short-grass plains’ – an area of shallow, volcanic soils west of Ngorongoro – that the wildebeest’s story begins. Here, they give birth to young calves every January and February. These plains flush green with highly nutritious grass after the rain, but are grazed flat and dry-out completely by March when the herds trek north. Their destination is the Maasai Mara, which is still blanketed with nutritious grass when the rest of the ecosystem has dried out.
According to their own oral history, the Maasai people’s origins are in the Nile Valley region of what is now South Sudan, before they moved south around 300 years ago, conquering other tribes and living as nomadic pastoralists.
In spite of many interventions, the Maasai have retained their traditions and remain a proud and indomitable people, with their tall stature, red shukas, rungu sticks and ornate beadwork their hallmarks. Maasai society is strongly patriarchal – the women are responsible for the construction of the homestead manyattas, made from mud, stick and dung, and the men build the surrounding engang of thorn branches to keep livestock safe within the home compound.
The actual population of Maasai is not clear, but there are perhaps half a million living in various sub-tribes unified by the Maa language, and many of East Africa’s most famous wildlife reserves are in Maasailand, including the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and Amboseli. As pastoralists, Maasai life is centred around cattle, which are a both a measure of wealth and the primary source of food – the soft, rhythmic tinkling of cowbells is a sound that you will quickly become attuned to at Angama Mara.