Maasai Mara is a large national game reserve in Narok Kenya, bordering Tanzania. It is named in honor of the Maasai people, the ancestral inhabitants of the area, who migrated from the Nile Basin. The reserve “Mara” means “spotted” in the local Maasai language originating from the spotted bushes and trees of the area. The Mara has a rich history and culture of coexistence with the land and its animals.
Maasai Mara is one of the most famous and important wildlife conservation and wilderness areas in Africa, world-renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, African leopard, cheetah and the African bush elephant. The legendary wildebeest migration is also one of the world’s most amazing wildlife encounters. The reserve is particularly famous for its highest concentration of lions and more than 500 species of birds, from kori bustards to ostriches. Mara national reserve covers 1,510 square kilometers that run to the Northernmost section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that covers 30,000 square kilometers.
The Maasai Mara is also one of the most famous safari destinations for tourists with both nature and wildlife attractions. This includes the hot air balloon safari, game drives, walking safaris and bird watching. The Maasai culture is one of the few remaining untapped cultures on the planet. The Maasai tribe is one of the native tribes found in Kenya. The community members (I don’t like the term “locals” although it is used a lot) live along the Great Rift Valley which has a semi-desert climate. They practice a nomad lifestyle where they depend on livestock for livelihood with little agriculture. The Maasai tribe is among the few tribes that have managed to conserve their traditions and cultures amidst modernization of the continent. They encourage and live by coexistence with each other, tourism, wildlife, cattle and the government.
The history of the Mara can be traced back to the East African ancestors of the Maasai, which had adopted pastoralism. Pastoralism can be described as a form of domestication, where animals such as cattle are released into the outdoors for grazing. The Maasai and wildlife have always been very interdependent. In times of severe drought, people turn to wildlife as a food source. Maasai’s success in conserving their environment without threatening the existence of the region’s wildlife can be attributed to pastoralism itself. Cattle was and continues to be central to life in the Mara, and their need for grazing land led them to cooperation and conflict with neighboring groups such as the Kamba and the Kikuyu communities. Many Maasai people continue to rely on herding cattle and goats for a living, and in the rural areas rely on food produced by cattle, especially milk, which is part of a popular cornmeal ugali. Their wealth is also measured by the number of cattle they own, however they normally do not eat meat. Since the Mara has been the site of pastoralism for a thousand years, most of their vegetation now only thrives from human interference. A current issue facing the Mara has been the increasing coming of tourists, a development which interferes with animal migration.
It is clear that the wildlife are as much a part of the environment as the people. The current system of tourism and development in the Mara endangers both the wildlife and the Maasai. Organizations such as the Mara Guide Association (MGA) have been dedicated to monitoring, protecting and taking care of these animals. Although conservationists have become increasingly aware of these issues, understanding the present needs of the Maasai and their neighbors at the local level and implementing a new park development strategy is crucial to save Maasailand from extinction.
My name is Miles Miller and my Maasai name is Ole Rakwa. I have been managing the development of the Maasai Automotive Education Centre for the past year and am back in Maasailand with my team for the next two months to work on the first stages of implementation and research for MAEC. It’s good to be back!