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Top Five Iconic Sightings of the Masai Mara

Without a doubt, Kenya's Masai Mara is one of the top destinations in Africa for safaris and wildlife spotting. Situated in the country's southwest, this 1,500 square kilometre wilderness comprises the Masai Mara National Reserve and several adjacent community-run conservancies. Together, they create essential habitats for many of Africa's best-loved species.

With each animal sighting always a unique and incredible experience, it isn't easy to pick favourites. Here are our favourite top five iconic wildlife sightings you might see when on safari in the Masai Mara!

Lions in Masai Mara
Lions in Masai Mara. Photo Great Plains Conservation

The Big Five

The Big Five attracted visitors to the Masai Mara long before it was made a national reserve in 1961. These first visitors were big game hunters, who came up with the name Big Five to describe the species most dangerous to hunt on foot.


Today, with hunting banned, the presence of Big Five species denotes the crème de la crème of Africa's protected spaces. Although this exclusive group has some notable absences regarding the species it covers, its members remain a must-see for many safari goers.


Catching sight of all the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhino – is never guaranteed. This is especially true since white and black rhinos in the Mara and throughout Africa have become rare. The Big Five are present in the Masai Mara year-round. With local knowledge and luck, you have a better chance of ticking off the Big Five in the Masai Mara than you do almost anywhere else on the continent.


The Great Wildebeest Migration

One of the most significant mass movements of animals anywhere on the planet, the Great Wildebeest Migration sees approximately two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope undertake a year-long circular migration in search of fresh pasture.

Much of the migration occurs across the border in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, which forms a fence-free wilderness with the Masai Mara. Each August, the vast herds move into the Masia Mara and face the challenge of crossing the Mara River.


Its steep banks and fast-flowing current make this a tough feat without the threat of crocodiles submerged among the river's rocks and big cats predating on the rear of the column while wildebeest, zebra and antelope wait to cross. The result is a frenetic atmosphere and one of the most impressive spectacles of the wildlife calendar.


Wildebeest on the Plains of the Masai Mara.
Wildebeest on the Plains of the Masai Mara. Photo Governors Camp
Cats Big & Small

The Masai Mara is big cat heaven, with very healthy numbers of lions, leopards and a population of around 125 adult cheetahs, making them another relatively common sighting. In addition, to the big cats, the Masai Mara is also an excellent destination for sightings of smaller cats species, such as servals, whose wide-ranging diet of reptiles, birds, frogs and rodents makes it a regular sighting.

Meanwhile, the sleek tan-coloured caracal is another beautiful species to look out for. Primarily nocturnal, your best chance of seeing a caracal is either at dawn or dusk. It's best known for its habit of leaping clear of the tall grasses to snatch birds out of the air mid-flight, so well worth the effort to see.

Following Cheetah on a day time hunt
Following Cheetah on a day time hunt. Photo Angama Mara
Wild Dogs & Hyenas

Also known as the Cape hunting dog or painted wolf because of its mottled coat, the African Wild Dog is one of the rarest carnivores on the plains of the Masai Mara. Hunting in family groups they have a social structure, so complex scientists are only just unravelling it.

As Africa's largest canine, they can hunt down everything from springbok to wildebeest and often use their endurance – they've been clocked travelling at 60 kilometres for a whole hour – to exhaust their prey.

The African wild dog is often mistaken for spotted hyenas, although the latter is neither canine nor feline but most closely related to the mongoose. Hyenas may have a fearful reputation, but their laugh-like bark makes them immediately recognisable, and they play an important role in the Mara ecosystem thanks to jaws that can crush bone. Their interactions and battles with lions are the stuff that National Geographic documentaries are made of.


Birdlife

Close to 500 species of bird call the Masai Mara home for at least part of the year, and around 60 of these species are raptors, such as the black kite. Arrive at any recent kill, and it's likely you'll encounter squabbling vultures too bloated to take to the air.

The easiest of Mara's bird species to spot is probably the ostrich due to its size. The secretary bird – so named because of the quills that protrude from its head – is also relatively common among the herds of wildebeest, zebra and giraffe. The sinister-looking marabou stork is another permanent resident worthy of capture on camera.

Wildlife of the Masai Mara

Visits to the Masai Mara aren't short of wildlife sightings. From the Big Five to herds of beautiful antelope, everywhere you look, you're sure to see what's arguably an iconic wildlife sighting.





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