Safari: Part II – Life and death on the Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara (or Masai Mara) is the prime game reserve in Kenya. It is over 1,500 square kilometres and part of the much larger Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which crosses from South-West Kenya into Northern Tanzania (and covers an enormous 25,000 square kilometres).

The grasslands/savannah of the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti are the stage for one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. Every year, around July, millions of animals migrate North from the Serengeti to the Mara and then they migrate back again around October. We were there just before the rains in the Serengeti which will tempt millions of Wildebeest, Common Zebra and many other species back across the Crocodile-infested Mara River into the Serengeti.

This show is a great display of wild ‘life’ and ‘death’.

Life and death

This family of Hippo, above, are on the Mara River, where every year millions of antelope and Zebra will cross and every year thousands will drown or be killed by waiting Nile Crocodile, Lions, and Hyena.

We were lucky enough to witness the extraordinary courtship displays of the Ostrich (females ‘dancing’ below)…

And after some equally exotic displays from the male, the … err … successful result…

Animals on the Mara, particularly antelope, must be able to keep up with the herd almost as soon as they are born. Here is a female Waterbuck and its suckling calf partly obscured by the grass…

And here (below) a Lioness keeps watch as her young cubs are safely hidden behind a mound…

The enormous presence of mammal life on the savannah supports other life. Sometimes symbiotically… such as these Yellow-billed Oxpecker hitching a lift and clearing ticks and mites from an African Buffalo (below)

And sometimes to the singular advantage of predators…

… such as these Lions (above) resting a few metres away from their ‘kill’, a half-eaten Common Zebra…

And where the top predators have killed, the scavengers are surely to be found close by…

Ruppell’s Vulture keeping watch and waiting patiently over a Lion-kill  where the big cat is asleep. As soon as the Lions leave, the Vultures will move in.

The Maasai people

Eastern Africa is home to many different ethnic groups (or tribes), but few have remained as close to their traditional way of life as the nomadic pastoralists, the Maasai people, after whom the reserve is named.

The men wander the plains with large herds of cows and goats, whilst the women build and maintain the houses in villages designed to protect them and their livestock from predators at night. They continue to live a relatively simple life, mainly consuming the products from their livestock: meat, milk, and blood (which they drink tapped from the neck veins of living cows).

To a travelling foreigner, life for the Maasai seems tough…

Children are expected to grow up quickly. The children above and below (with joke glasses we gave them) will soon be expected to become men.

When boys reach the age of 14-16, they are circumcised without anaesthetic or antiseptic. If they cry, they are almost rejected by their community and will certainly never marry. If they ‘survive’ this ordeal, they will then endure another: they wander the plains in a group, shut out of the villages for four months and living from the land in small groups, identified by their painted faces and normally dark clothing:

If the boys survive this, they return to their communities and would then be expected to prove themselves as warriors – traditionally by killing a lion – and then showing off their manliness to women from other villages and getting a wife (or two or three or more) by showing how high they can jump…

Whether amongst the animals or the people of the Maasai Mara, I was struck by the closeness the inhabitants exist to both a raw and vital life and a very real and constant threat of death.


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