Giraffes and zebras walking in Masai Mara

Masai Mara Animals

As Kenya's leading safari destination, Masai Mara guarantees plenty of wildlife spotting. Named after the Maasai people, the ancient tribe that inhabits the region, this national reserve neighbours Serengeti National Park along the border of Tanzania. It's one of the best places in Africa to see big cats and other members of the Big Five. Find out what animals you can discover in this incredible place.

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Masai Mara Big 5

Africa's safaris are famous for offering travellers a chance to see Big Five game in their natural habitat. The lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo are considered to be the Big Five, and all of them are found in Masai Mara. Sadly this moniker was coined by early game hunters, as these majestic creatures proved hardest to hunt on foot. Nowadays the term is widely used by safari tour operators whose trips help with habitat conservation and the peaceful observation of these impressive creatures.

  • Young adult lion sitting in the grassland


    Lions are considered the king of the jungle thanks to their size and ferociousness as predators. In 2009 it was estimated that there were only 2000 lions were left in Kenya by the Kenya Wildlife Service. In 2016, it was estimated that around 420 of them reside in Masai Mara by scientists from Oxford University who had devised a method for counting lions and used Masai Mara as a case study. The national reserve is famous for its high population of lions, and you'll find many prides here, each pride consisting of between 3-20 lions, stalking the plains or resting in the tall grass. Although the males are tasked with the responsibility of protecting the pride, females take the lead on hunting.

    Best time to spot: July to October
    Chances to spot: High
  • Adult elephant walking in the grassland


    Elephants are one of the largest land animals in the world, while adult males enjoy their solitude, female elephants live in groups with young ones, and are led by a matriarch. In the past, this beautiful creature has been endangered by poaching and loss of habitat, but latest reports from Kenya Wildlife Service estimate that since 2014 there has been an increase in their population from 1448 to 2493 in the Masai Mara ecosystem. Safari-goers will experience elephants throughout the reserve, but when large numbers of wildebeest take over the savannah, elephants head for the woodlands where they end up wreaking havoc.

    Best time to spot: All year round
    Chances to spot: High
  • Leopard resting on a tree


    In the same way that lions resemble animal royalty, leopards embody grace. Sadly, they are listed as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List. This shy nocturnal animal loves rocky areas and woodland areas, and they have fantastic vision and hearing. Adult leopards tend to live by themselves, only seeking out other females during mating season. By nature, leopards are an elusive creature, but they can occasionally be seen in Masai Mara, using a tree as a point of observation.

    Best time to spot: All year round (between sunset and sunrise)
    Chances to spot: Medium
  • Cape buffalo with birds in the wild

    Cape buffalo

    This may come as a surprise, but among the Big Five species, buffalo present the biggest threat to human beings. Cape buffalo are territorial and protective and can charge at great speed when they feel threatened. They can be found living in large groups, spending their time grazing the floodplains and savannah. An aerial count of the region from 2017 estimates there are just over 9,400 buffalo in the Masai Mara ecosystem. 

    Best time to spot: All year round
    Chances to spot: High
  • Black rhino with a calf in their natural habitat


    Seeing a rhino in Masai Mara is rare. In 1971 there were approximately 120 rhinos, because of poaching these numbers dwindled dramatically, and by 1984 there were 18 rhinos in the national reserve. When the Mara Conservancy began in 2001, there was only one female rhino left. After security strengthened, and more poachers began to be prosecuted, a male rhino was moved into the region to mate with the female. Although females only reproduce every two and a half to five years, the number of rhinos in Masai Mara now hovers around 25-30.

    Best time to spot: All year round (just after sunset)
    Chances to spot: Low

The animals of the Great Migration

This ancient pilgrimage of over a million wildebeest (along with gazelle and zebras) through the Serengeti plains from Masai Mara to Serengeti National Park is nature's greatest wildlife spectacle. As the seasons change, and grazing areas are depleted, these creatures make their way to greener pastures in search of blades of grass.

  • A herd of wildebeest in Masai Mara


    The Masai Mara is a notable location for the wildebeest migration due to their iconic crossing of the Mara River. They prefer grassy plains and open woodlands, are active day and night and like to travel in large herds, grazing round the clock. They are a prime source of food for Africa's fierce predators: lions, cheetahs and also, hyenas. Given that over a million wildebeest take part in the Great Migration, it's fair to say, the park is beyond abundant with the creature. 

    Best time to spot: July to October (during the Great Migration)
    Chances to spot: High during the Great Migration, Medium outside the Great Migration period
  • A herd of zebras in the grassland


    This beautiful species comes from the horse family. Zebras are social and like to spend time in the herds, often seen grazing on the grass together and even grooming each other. If a predator attacks a zebra, immediate family members come to protect the threatened zebra. Around 200,000 zebras take part in the Great Migration from Masai Mara towards Serengeti.

    Best time to spot: July to October (during the Great Migration)
    Chances to spot: High during the Great Migration, Medium outside the Great Migration period
  • Thompson's gazelle in the wild

    Thomson's gazelle

    Thomson's gazelle is a well-known species of gazelle. They are one of the animals that migrate alongside the wildebeest, around 500,000 Thomson's gazelles make the annual pilgrimage from Masai Mara. Although they are a food source for big cats, their speed can rival that of a cheetah, and these gazelles are also known for being territorial.

    Best time to spot: July to October (during the Great Migration)
    Chances to spot: High during the Great Migration, Medium outside the Great Migration period

Other wildlife and birds of Masai Mara

  • Adult giraffe with a calf walking in the grassland


    The world's tallest mammal can also be found in Masai Mara. With their towering legs and insanely tall necks, seeing a giraffe out in the wild is as exciting as seeing some of the big cats of this national reserve. In 2017, an aerial count of the region yielded a presence of over 2,500 giraffes.

    Best time to spot: All year round
    Chances to spot: High
  • Cheetah looking over the Masai Mara grasslands


    The Masai Mara is considered to be one of the best places in the world to see cheetahs in the wild. Cheetahs are the world's fastest land animal, reaching up to 95 km/h (60 mp/h) in only three seconds. They favour open grasslands, and even though Masai Mara has a high density of cheetahs, their species faces threats such habitat loss and the increasing human pressure on the Mara region.

    Best time to spot: All year round
    Chances to spot: Medium
  • Crocodile resting in the water by the river bank


    A solitary creature, crocodiles can be found in murky waters, feeding mostly on fish. Crocodiles are said to have been around since the dinosaur days, and the Mara River is home to one of largest crocodilians in Africa. During the Great Migration, wildebeest have to make a perilous journey across the crocodile-infested waters of Mara River, and crocodiles will attack them for a meal.

    Best time to spot: Throughout the year
    Chances to spot: High
  • A group of adult hippos relaxing by the river bank


    A semi-aquatic creature, hippos inhabit flowing river waters, swamps and lakes. During the day they cool off by staying submerged in water or mud, but as the sun sets, they like to graze on grass. Hippos are incredibly aggressive and among one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. There are around 125,000 to 150,000 hippos throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and they face a serious threat from poachers wanting their ivory canine teeth.

    Best time to spot: Throughout the year 
    Chances to spot: Medium
  • Adult ostrich in the grassland of Masai Mara

    Common ostrich

    Among the 470 bird species found in Masai Mara is the common ostrich, one of the world's largest birds. Even though this bird cannot take flight, ostriches have strong legs which help them to run away quickly and kick hard. Depending on the season, this bird will be going it alone, as part of a pair, small flock or larger crowd.

    Best time to spot: November to April
    Chances to spot: Medium
  • Two grey crowned cranes walking in the marshes

    Grey-crowned crane

    The Masai Mara offers good bird-watching throughout the year, but the best time is from November to April. That's when stunning birds like the grey crowned crane fly into the region. During this time (also known as the wet season) many species can be seen. A common bird, the grey crowned crane likes to inhabit wetter areas near rivers. 

    Best time to spot: November to April
    Chances to spot: Medium

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