The Maasai Mara National Reserve, known better as the Mara among local people is named in honour of the ethnic group of Maasai people living in the southern part of Kenya. The Maasai Mara game reserve in the Narok County in Kenya is arguably the most widely known and visited game reserve in the world. The plains of the Maara resemble a vast expanse of the iconic African savanna and are home to some of the iconic African wildlife. The Maara for centuries now have been a witness to the long drawn clash between two of its titans, the legendary Maasai lions and the ethnic Maasai people. For long these two apex species have shared these grasslands and are no strangers to confrontations. Yet somehow both have been able to flourish in this strange environment which is as much a home to the king of the beasts as it is to this nomadic tribe of humans.
The site of the Tanzanian cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet darting across these plains at a speed in excess of 110 km/hour in pursuit of its prey or the spotted coat of the extremely intelligent African leopard disappearing in the scrubs only to wait for an unsuspecting antelope to venture close to it are few of the daily occurrences in the life of the Mara. Big herds of the formidable Cape buffalo make their way from one pasture to the next kicking up storms of dust with their hooves. These massive creatures are engaged in a life long struggle with their sworn enemies, the lions. The two formidable opponents engage in a never ending battle of nerves, strength and courage from the moment they are born. This is probably one of nature’s oldest rivalries and yet till this day there is no one clear winner. The Mara experiences a population explosion every year during the great annual migration. As the dry season reaches its peak the unforgiving African wilderness forces even the most resilient creatures to look for greener pastures until the rains arrive. Herbivores such as wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle, zebras and others move into the Mara in huge numbers and make it their grazing grounds from July to October, until the much awaited rains finally arrive in November. The elephants as always are quick to make effective use of their mammoth proportions in order to nip in the bud any sliver of dispute over a shrinking watering hole or grazing ground.
These giants have no natural enemies and go about their daily business which includes consuming tonnes of vegetation and hundreds of gallons of water among other in their own calm and confident manner. The adult females who herd together led by an experienced matriarch are extremely protective towards their young ones and forge a deep bond with their young ones. Although the lions know far too well to steer clear of their gigantic neighbours, when the dry season unleashes its unmitigated fury drying up every available resource, the lions driven by starvation have been known to take down elephant claves or juveniles even in some cases an injured or sick adult.
The Mara is the stage where the dramas of nature play out at a larger than life scale, almost in a self-indulgent manner. Some of them so colossal in their proportions they appear to be a work of fiction, while some can put the most intricate of algorithms at test with their complexities. Every animal which has made this exceptional wilderness its home plays a vital cog in the wheel of life which has been spinning across these plains for centuries now, unravelling as it travels countless secrets and episodes of the natural world.
The zebra an all too familiar resident of the Maasai Mara keeps a close watch on the surroundings during dusk as the impending darkness will provide a fresh set of challenges to both predators and preys.
A lioness relaxes as the setting sun casts its final shadows over the Mara. Lions spend most of their day resting, sleeping or bonding with other members of their pride, however when the opportunity of a hunt presents itself these lazy cats are transformed into one of nature’s finest killing machines.
The lightweight frame of the cheetah allows it to clock speed in excess of 100 km/hour across these plains. However its light frame is no match to other predators such as the hyena, the leopard or the lions who will not hesitate to maul it to death to eliminate competition. Understandably this wary cheetah keeps a close look on its surroundings to escape such perils.
The African leopard like most big cats lead a solitary existence only to pair up with a member of the opposite sex during the mating season. The bond between this male and female leopard will last for a few days during the mating season, after which they will go their separate ways with little chances of their paths crossing until the female is ready to mate again.
The Cape buffalo with its massive bulk in the vicinity of 1000 kg and the formidable horned armour on its head is a worthy opponent of the lions. Fiercely protective of their herd members they don’t shy away from a confrontation even with the lions.
Elephant claves are one of the most well looked after young ones in the animal kingdom. Not only the calves are blessed with diligent maternal care, the other females of the herd pitch in to ensure their healthy upbringing. This young one, without a care in the world is busy enjoying its day out in the sun.
The topi is another commonly found antelope in the Maasai Mara. One of the fastest antelopes found in Africa the topi is highly social and lives in big herds.
The open plains of Mara provide the ideal settings for the flightless ostrich to show off its speeding skills, which are called to action while evading a pursuing predator. These feathered giants are armed with strong legs with huge talons which play a crucial role in deterring the most persistent predators on many occasions.
The large terrestrial secretary bird stands tall at above 4 feet. Their long strides across these grasslands bear an ominous sign for ground dwellers such as lizards, rodent and even snakes which prominently feature in their menu.
By : Vinaya Mohan