Prepare for the wildlife adventure of a lifetime! The Maasai Mara, known by locals as simply the Mara, is a world-famous natural reserve near Narok in southwest Kenya. This is one of the very few places where you can observe large mammals like lions, elephants, and giraffes free in their natural habitat.
Dubbed one of the prime wildlife reserves in Africa and the world, it’s not surprising that the Maasai Mara is a popular spot among wildlife photographers wishing to snap some stunning images of elephants, leopards, lions, or other African animals. Since 2018, a contest commemorating the finest photographs taken in the reserve has been taking place. In fact, the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year competition a favorite of mine, and you’re about to see why.
Artist's comments: “It was a lovely morning and dad was around soaking up the sun while mom and her sister took the cubs on a walk about.”
The Maasai Mara is in southwest Kenya bordering Tanzania and the famous Serengeti National Park. The national reserve covers an area of 583 square miles (1,510 km sq) of the African savannah. Apart from the Maasai Mara National Reserve itself, the Mara ecosystem also includes the Mara Triangle and a number of Maasai Conservancies. These are privately owned, but they are still largely accessible to visitors.
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Artist's comment: “We quickly rushed to the bottom of the river bed and waited. She not only walked by it, but she stretched and looked towards us.”
The Maasai Mara is world-famous for showcasing a mind-boggling diversity of wildlife. Approximately 40% of Africa’s largest mammals live there, roaming freely across the endless plains of the reserve. This list includes Africa’s Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino.
Artist's comment: “I got to understand with time that powerful wildlife images are the ones that translate an emotion, which is often the result of the interaction between two or more animals."
The name “Maasai Mara” is a toponym that honors the ancestral inhabitants of this area – the Maasai people — who had migrated here from the Nile Basin. In the Maa language of the Maasai, mara means “spotted.” This is a reference to the patchy landscape of the savannah that, when viewed from above, is dotted with shrubs and small flat-crowned acacia trees.
Artist's comment: “I’ll never forget as a mega herd of wildebeest rushed down the bank as the red glow of a perfect sunrise pierced the sky.”
The Masai Mara is a relatively young and compact national reserve created to let large mammals roam freely in their natural habitat. At the time of its establishment in 1961, the Masai Mara was even smaller; the entire area of the reserve was only 200 square miles (520 km sq). For comparison, the neighboring Serengeti National Park is 5,700 square miles (14,763 km sq), and it was founded a whole decade earlier.
In 1974, some surrounding territories were returned to Maasai families. The Maasai people are often farmers and cattle herders, but in this case, they let nature run the show. Many prior farmlands were transformed into conservancies that effectively expanded the Greater Mara ecosystem to its current size. Establishing their lands as private conservancies allows Maasai families to sustain their livelihoods in addition to helping revive nature.
Artist's comment: “We watched this serval cat scan the area, finally pounce and prey upon a mouse, and then stand satisfied for a few minutes as the early morning sun lit up her fur from behind making a glowing halo around her.”
The reserve is a medley of vast grassy savannahs and verdant greenery along the riverbanks of the Sand, Mara, and Talek rivers. The entire area is brimming with wildlife. Lions, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and African bush elephants, are just a few animals visitors can expect to meet at the Maasai Mara.
Artist's comment: “We spotted the cubs near the foot of the hills where they are known to live... when one of the lionesses went up to her cubs, we got our moment where we took some close-up shots in the warm morning sunlight.”
One of the most fascinating marvels visitors can witness at the reserve is the Great Migration. This is a time from July to October when 1,5 million wildebeest, zebra, and antelopes take over the Maasai Mara. The massive influx of herbivores and the predators that hunt them is governed by the need for freshwater and grazing grounds. In late July, the animals migrate from Serengeti National Park to the Masai Mara, crossing the Mara River. By September, the savannah fills up with a staggering number of zebras, antelopes, and wildebeest.
Artist's comment: “ Suddenly, startled by the danger from the now blood-orange-red dawn, a group of wildebeest ran straight at us and disappeared into nothingness... We were rewarded: the morning sun and the dust of the savannah gave this brief moment in a beautiful play of colors and an almost mystical mood.”
The Great Migration is the highest hunting season for African big cats: lions, cheetahs, and leopards. The predators follow the herds of zebra and wildebeest to the Masai Mara.
Artist's comment: “We found Short-Tail lounging just after sunrise. He graced us with a little drink from a nearby puddle, resulting in this beautiful dripping of water from is mane and beard.”
Artist's comment: “After an hour spent watching the cubs, they finally took notice of our truck and decided to come explore. I captured this image as they made their way toward us along the path.”
The honor of the 2022 greatest Maasai Mara photographer was awarded to Kenyan photographers Preeti and Prashant Chacko. They worked in tandem to take this wonderful photo of a giraffe and her baby titled Hallelujah. “The emotion of a mother-child interaction is something that we love to photograph,” Preet revealed in a statement to My Modern Met. What they didn’t expect was that a group of oxpeckers would join the portrait: “Three oxpeckers flew up into the sky at the moment of reunion, almost as if to say: ‘Hallelujah.’”
Another heartening fact about this photo contest is that the full sum of every contest entry fee and photo print is donated to nature conservation efforts at the Maasai Mara. The 2022 contest already helped raise $15,000.
We hope you enjoyed this beautiful trip through the vast plains of the Maasai Mara. We invite you to visit the contest’s Website, Instagram Page, or Facebook to learn more about the competition. In addition, you can see even more beautiful photos of this magical place on our planet there.
References: Masaimara.com, My Modern Met, PetaPixel