About The Masai Mara National Reserve and Olare Motorogi Conservancy
The Masai Mara National Reserve and the surrounding conservancies constitute one of Kenya’s most famous wilderness areas. They also provide the backdrop against which is enacted what has been dubbed ‘the greatest wildlife show on earth', the annual migration of the wildebeest.
Nature knows no boundaries, so although the Masai Mara technically belongs to Kenya, and the Serengeti National Park to Tanzania, both are part of the same mighty Serengeti ecosystem. This is a wilderness where endless khaki-coloured savannah washes up to the foot of the blue-grey Oloolola Escarpment; where low-lying shrub dapples the plains, and where tree-lined rivers meander.
A place unchanged by the passage of time, the Mara is essential Africa. Sometimes raw, always dramatic, this is a wilderness of evocative splendour and inspiring grandeur. Often raw, sometimes violent, the drama of this wildlife theatre is unrivalled. Nowhere on earth can you find a wilderness so breathtakingly beautiful and yet so serenely pristine.
In practical terms, it helps to know that the Masai Mara is a national reserve, which means that it is an area where human habitation is permitted and where domestic livestock may roam. Its wildlife, however, is carefully protected and the well-being of the wildlife always takes precedence over human activities. You’ll see the Mara referred to as the Masai Mara and the Maasai Mara: both spellings are technically correct but the area is officially known as the Masai Mara, while the term Maasai describes the Maa people.
The conservancies that surround the Mara are a natural extension of the Serengeti eco-system. Unlike the national reserve, however, they represent a series of joint-venture initiatives that have been forged between the Maasai people and the conservation sector. The conservancies include: Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Mara North Conservancy, Lemek Conservancy, Ol Choro Conservancy, Naiboisho Conservancy, Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Siana Group Ranch and Ol derkesi Conservancy.
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The first private conservancy in the Masai Mara eco-system, the Olare Motorogi Conservancy promises unrivalled wildlife viewing against the backdrop of a spectacular wilderness. Spanning 35,000 acres of rolling grassland, hills and escarpment, the Motorogi plains are located immediately to the north of the Ol Kiombo area of the Masai Mara National Reserve and encompass the lower valleys of the Olare Orok and Ntiakitiak rivers as well as extensive areas of riverine forest, the Ntiakitiak Gorge and a 12km escarpment below which are large areas of acacia woodland. A stunning illustration of wildlife conservancy at its best, Olare Motorogi was founded in 2006 when 227 Maasai landowners brokered a deal with a group of dedicated conservationists. Their agreement, which was revolutionary in itself, has since become the template for the Mara community of wildlife conservancies. It has also provided a blueprint for the sustainability of the greater Mara ecosystem.
Forging the future of conservation
A unique blend of ancient wisdom and contemporary scientific know-how, the Conservancy is run according to the age-old Maasai principles regarding holistic grazing and pasture management. It also benefits from the implementation of the most up-to-date programmes of wilderness management. The Conservancy’s strict environmental policies mean that the environmental footprint of its operators is kept to a minimum. Only mobile camps are permitted within the area. They have no foundations and use only ‘green’ management systems. Thus they can be removed leaving no trace upon the environment.
Sharing with the Maasai community
As well as protecting their ancestral lands, the Conservancy also delivers a guaranteed income to the local community. This is much needed and allows them access to education, sanitation, health facilities, veterinary services and an unprecedented level of local government and self-determination. Where once there were small villages, now there are flourishing prides of lions, leopards, cheetah and other animals. And where one the annual migration of the wildebeest spanned only a limited area and season, now the Conservancy boasts its own migration, known as the Loita Migration.
The Olare Motorogi Fact File
Climate: the area receives the highest rainfall (average 1000 mm pa) in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Rain falls throughout the year but peaks in December, January and April.
Vegetation: rolling grassland, riverine forest, acacia woodland, swamps, non-deciduous thickets, and Acacia, Croton and Tarchonanthus scrub.
Wildlife: the ecosystem hosts over 95 species of mammals. Highlights include: elephant, buffalo, hippo, Masai giraffe, topi, Coke's hartebeest, Grant's and Thomson's gazelle, zebra, impala, Kirk's dik-dik, bushbuck, waterbuck, red duiker, baboon, vervet monkey, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, nocturnal bush baby, and tree hyrax.
Birds: more than 550 recorded species (5 globally threatened).
Arena for ‘the greatest wildlife show on earth'
The annual migration of the wildebeest represents the single largest movement of creatures on the planet. A constantly revolving cycle of movement between the Mara and the Serengeti – it arrives in the Mara approximately around the end of July. And it moves on into the Serengeti around November. Numbers vary depending on rainfall, but typically over one-and-a-half million wildebeest accompanied by half again as many zebras and gazelles, will migrate from the short-grass plains of the Serengeti in search of the fresh, young green grass pasture of the Mara. One of nature’s most magnificent spectacles, the wildebeest move in groups of up to 20,000 at a time. Creating vast braids of blue-black, the thunder across the Mara plateau before hurling themselves down the banks of the Mara River where gigantic crocodiles await. Then, towards the end of October the call of the fresh grass of the Serengeti calls – and they begin the long trek back into Tanzania. Because it is dominated by the weather, the timing of the migration cannot be predicted. However, because it is essentially a constantly revolving cycle of birth, life and death – there will always be some aspect of its majesty to be observed. It might be the pageant of the mating season, or the birth of the calves. It might be the presence of thousands of creatures peaceably grazing on the plains, or it might be the driving plunging madness of the herds on the move. Finally, a fact unknown to most people, the migration is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Prior to 1969 it didn’t exist, and only a few wildebeest spilled over from the Serengeti into the Mara in exceptionally dry years.
The Loita Migration
The Conservancy hosts its own mini-migration, which moves from the Loita Plains, across the Mara and into the Ol Kinyei Conservancy usually by January. The calving takes place there during February and March and the wildebeest then move through Olare Motorogi and into the Mara Reserve. It is estimated that around 150,000 animals take part in this migration.
Big cat country
Its quite astonishing abundance of herbivores makes the greater Mara area the ideal hunting ground for Kenya's famous ‘big cats’, which are present in unprecedented numbers. This is an area that is world-renowned for its lions and equally celebrated for its cheetahs. It is also one of the few places on Earth where you stand a reasonable chance of sighting a leopard in the wild. And you may rest assured that our guides will do everything within their power to ensure that your quota of ‘big cats’ exceeds your expectations.
Theatre of the wild
Quite apart from the cats, the Mara and its conservancies promise large herds of elephant, which move across the landscape in stately procession. You will also encounter plenty of buffalo, while the rivers literally abound with plump brown hippo. If you’re lucky, you might also see the hippo as they begin their nightly trek in search of grass – which can take them up to 10 kilometres from the riverbanks.
Elsewhere you can expect to see the distinctive Masai giraffe, the purple-brown topi, the long-faced Coke's hartebeest, and the leaping herds of Grant's and Thomson's gazelle. Great herds of Burchells zebra pound across the plains alongside darting impala, while in the undergrowth you’ll spot tiny pairs of Kirk's dik-dik. Other plains game includes bushbuck, waterbuck and red duiker. In the rivers there are huge Nile crocodile, while in the riverine forests you’ll come across monitor lizard, baboon, vervet, blue and red-tailed monkeys, nocturnal bush babies, and tree hyrax.
An ornithologists wonderland
For the ornithologist, the Mara ecosystem promises excitement indeed. Showcasing over 550 resident and migratory species, this unique region shelters an incredible array of both regionally and globally threatened birds. It is also the ONLY place in Kenya where you can spot the rare Schalow's turaco. On the plains you will see common ostrich, striding secretary birds, ground hornbills and bustards (kori, black-bellied and white-bellied). Amid the savannah grasslands look out for the hurrying flocks of helmeted guinea fowl. You’ll also see plenty of larks, crowned plovers and red-necked spur fowls. In riverine areas you can expect to see the distinctive black and white African fish eagle alongside, Egyptian geese, yellow-billed stork, sacred ibis and blacksmith plover. Finally, the skies above are patrolled by an amazing 53 species of raptors. Readily spotted will be the augur buzzard, the black-shouldered kites and the mighty bateleur eagle. Finally, this wilderness promises six species of vulture.
The place of the spotted plains
Known as the place of the ‘spotted plains’ due to its extensive dapple of dark shrubs, the savannah is dominated by the beautiful red oat grass, which is best seen at sunset – haloed in pink. After the rains the lush grasslands burst briefly into brilliance with a glorious array of small flowering plants. There are pink, orange or mango-coloured Crossandra subacaulis; while sometimes the plains are covered in a confetti of tiny white flowers known as ‘tissue paper flowers' (Cycnium tubulosum). You might also glimpse the stunning fire-ball lily (Scadoxus multiflorus) and the magnificent pink and white striped pyjama lily (Crinum macowanii).