This area includes the Masai Mara National Reserve (181,200 ha) and the surrounding wildlife dispersal areas (482,800 ha) in south-western Kenya. Collectively, the reserve and its surrounds are often called the Greater Mara; here, Masai Mara refers to the entire IBA. The site adjoins the Serengeti National Park along the Kenya/Tanzania border, and is considered part of the same ecosystem. The National Reserve is Kenya’s most-visited protected area, world famous for its high density of herbivores and predators, and the annual migrations of wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus. In 1996, it was nominated for designation as a World Heritage Site. To the north, east and west are large parcels of land demarcated as group ranches owned and inhabited by the semi-nomadic pastoral Maasai people. This communal land forms an extensive wildlife dispersal area for the reserve, comprising the group ranches of Siana (152,000 ha), Koiyaki (94,000 ha), Olkinyei (80,000 ha), Lemek (66,000 ha), Kimindet (37,000 ha), Olorien (26,000 ha), Olchorro Ouirwa (11,800 ha), Kerinkani (8,100 ha) and Angata Baragoi (7,900 ha). Habitats in the Masai Mara are varied, including open rolling grassland, riverine forest, Acacia woodland, swamps, non-deciduous thickets, boulder-strewn escarpments, and Acacia, Croton andTarchonanthus scrub. The permanent Mara and Talek rivers, and their tributaries, flow through the reserve and approximately trisect it. There is a pronounced rainfall gradient from the drier east (with c.800 mm rain/year) to the wetter west (with c.1,200 mm/year).
See Box and Table 2 for key species. The Mara’s extensive grasslands are a stronghold for the threatened, migratory Crex crex and the near threatened, restricted-range Euplectes jacksoni. The woodlands around the reserve are probably the centre of abundance for the threatened, restricted-range Prionops poliolophus. The restricted-range Histurgops ruficauda has recently been sighted within the reserve, near the southern border, and may be expanding its range northwards. More than 500 other bird species are known to occur, including 12 species of Cisticola and 53 birds of prey. Grassland birds are especially well represented. Large numbers of Palearctic migrants winter in the area, including Charadrius asiaticus and Ciconia ciconia. The Oloololo or Siria Escarpment is one of the few Kenyan sites for Cisticola aberrans. Other local and unusual birds in the Masai Mara include Ardeola rufiventris, Neotis denhami, Centropus grillii, Cercomela familiaris, Calamonastes undosus, Cisticola angusticauda, Hippolais icterinia (in the northern winter), Hyliota flavigaster, Eremomela scotopus and Corvinella melanoleucus. There is a single record of Balaeniceps rex, from the Musiara swamp. Regionally threatened species include Anhinga rufa (occasional visitor), Casmerodius albus, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis (several pairs nest), Trigonoceps occipitalis (regularly nests), Circaetus cinerascens (small numbers), Hieraaetus ayresii (occasional visitor), Polemaetus bellicosus (resident), Stephanoaetus coronatus, Coturnix adansonii (rare intra-African migrant), Porzana pusilla (occasional visitor), Podica senegalensis (resident), Neotis denhami (possibly only 2–3 individuals), Scotopelia peli (resident) and Buphagus africanus (common resident).
Non-bird biodiversity: The Masai Mara is remarkable for its great concentration of large herbivores and their attendant predators. The density of herbivores is estimated as nearly 240/km2, with a biomass of just under 30 tonnes/km2. The extraordinary annual migration of some 1.5 million Connochaetes taurinus (and 200,000 Equus burchelli) is world famous. There are particularly large numbers of Panthera leo (VU) and spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta, and populations of the threatened Diceros bicornis (CR) and Loxodonta africana (EN). Lycaon pictus (EN) now appears to be extinct in the reserve, having succumbed to epidemics of rabies and canine distemper virus (possibly caused by exposure to domestic dogs). A population still survives in the scrublands of Naikarra and Laleta Hills on Siana Group Ranch.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Masai Mara Game Reserve is owned and managed by the Narok County Council and Transmara County Council, which collect gate and other fees. Lodges and camps outside the reserve remit occupation, concession and viewing fees directly to wildlife and tourism associations composed of the local communities. Wildlife generates very substantial revenue in the Masai Mara. An estimated KSh 444 million was earned in 1987, when 122,000 people visited the area. Visitor numbers rose to almost 159,000 by 1994, with revenue presumably increasing in proportion. At US$27 dollars per person, daily ‘viewing fees’ are currently the highest in Kenya. However, only a small amount of the overall earnings are retained locally (around 10% in 1987). Of this, an even smaller amount appears to trickle down to the local communities. Most Maasai still feel that they benefit little from the wildlife on their land. As a result, and because of a rapidly growing human population, land-use changes are accelerating. With moderately high rainfall and fertile soils, parts of the area have good agricultural potential. Large-scale farms with fields of wheat, maize, barley, soya beans and sorghum already cloak the landscape towards the north, in Lemek and Olkinyei, and there are now farms within 17 km of the reserve boundary. Over the IBA as a whole, agriculture covered 12% of the land area in 1996, compared to just 3% in 1975, while open grassland (the preferred habitat for conversion to cropland) had declined from 24% to 13%. Most farmers are non-Maasai who either lease the land (for large-scale farming) or have bought small plots. A number of local people are also turning to farming, and fenced-off agricultural plots are mushrooming in areas of rangeland and along the Mara river. There is also increasing pressure to demarcate and subdivide land. This involves the splitting up of group ranches (where the land is unfenced and held collectively by members of the group) into individual plots that can be fenced, leased or sold. However, in areas where the rainfall is erratic and unpredictable, the resulting fixed, small land-holdings are widely regarded as ecologically inappropriate, unable reliably to support either farming or ranching. As subdivision proceeds, the movement of wildlife is inevitably impeded, and human-wildlife conflict increases. Some 25 tented camps and lodges now operate in and around the reserve. There has been little consideration of how many tourist facilities the area can support, and the proliferation of accommodation puts severe pressure on resources, particularly fuelwood. At the same time, there is widespread concern that investment in conservation and in basic facilities, such as roads, has been minimal, and the standard of protected area management generally appears wanting. Uncontrolled dry-season grass fires, poaching for meat (both for subsistence and on a commercial scale, especially along the western boundary), invasion of the reserve by livestock, rampant off-track driving and chronic harassment of animals have all attracted unwelcome attention. Epidemics of canine distemper virus have killed many lions and eliminated the reserve’s hunting dog population. Riverine forests are being destroyed in many places by the increasing number of elephants, which have moved into the reserve from insecure lands around it (including the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania). An integrated land-use plan is urgently needed to address the serious social, economic and conservation problems that are emerging in the Masai Mara. This should not ignore the area’s birdlife. The Serengeti–Mara ecosystem is already the focus of considerable long-term biological research (notably on predator–prey relationships and the ecology of grazers, hunting dog, spotted hyena and lion), but very little scientific attention has been paid to its birds. As grassland habitats vanish elsewhere in Kenya, the Masai Mara becomes ever more significant for bird conservation, and its birds require proper study.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Masai Mara. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 15/12/2019.