To summarize the diversity of wildlife in the Masai Mara National Reserve, there are over 95 species of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Some of the most iconic animals found here include African elephants, lions, rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, and buffalo. That’s not all. This Reserve is home to these 470+ bird species.
Mara is renowned for having the highest concentration of animals in the world, making it a highly popular reserve, and is now a World Heritage Site.
I have found the larger Mara ecosystem to be super rich with wildlife. Africa’s beloved big cats, lions and leopards, can be found prowling around in search of their next meal. Lions are often seen in pride, lounging about the savannah grasses that surround this vast reserve. Leopards tend to climb trees and hunt on branches, so look up into the branches if you want to spot one!
Masai Mara Animals/Wildlife:
The classic “Big 5” can all be found in the Masai Mara as well.
African Elephants, Rhinoceros, Giraffes, Water Buffalo, and of course, lions are all present here.
African Elephant(Loxodonta Africana):
The largest land animal in the world can be seen in herds of up to 20 individuals. They are most active during dusk and dawn when they tend to feed on grasses, leaves, bark and twigs. Rhinoceros: These ancient giants can weigh up to 5500kgs and stand 2m tall at the shoulder. African elephants exhibit distinct physical differences compared to their Asian counterparts. Specifically, their tusks and ears serve as perhaps the most two glaring examples. While Asian elephants possess smaller, rounder ears, their African counterparts’ ears are comparatively larger and often likened to the shape of the African continent. Their lifespan is up to 70 years.
Despite having a significantly big size compared to other animals, I really like that the elephants don’t cause trouble and are quite peaceful in nature. They are known for being intelligent and sociable. Although it is often targeted for ivory, the good news is that their population in the area has increased in recent years.
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
Leopards in the Mara are the most elusive to spot and highly encourage you to ask your tour operator if you’d like to specifically see the leopard. Leopard is one of my favorite wild animals as its elegance and stealth make them one of the most amazing creatures in the world.
These magnificent creatures are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and encroachment by humans. According to estimates from researchers, the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) has experienced a significant decline in its original range on the African continent, ranging from 48 to 67 percent. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the African leopard as vulnerable on its Red List, based on extensive research. This classification underscores the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect this magnificent species.
Preferring solitary lives, adult leopards emerge from their solace only during mating. They thrive in wooded savannahs and rocky outcrops, with a good chance of spotting them perched high on treetops. From their elevated vantage points, they employ their remarkable vision, acute hearing, and well-developed sense of smell to locate unsuspecting prey and strike from above. Antelopes and baboons rank highly among their favored prey. Once a kill is made, leopards are known to hoist it aloft into the safety of a tree, concealing it from other predators.
Due to their elusive nature, leopards are not typically considered a prominent species in the Mara. However, this does not imply that extraordinary sightings are out of the question. Based on information gathered from online sources, researchers estimate that around 30 leopards currently reside in the reserve. However, I personally believe that this number may be an underestimate. During one of my recent Mara safaris, I was fortunate enough to witness three leopard sightings that left me completely awestruck. These remarkable encounters have led me to believe that the leopard population in the reserve might be even higher than previously estimated.
It is important to note that you are not guaranteed to have a leopard sighting during your stay in the Mara. If you book 2 or 3-day safaris in the Mara, there may not be available time to track down these elusive cats and view them in their natural habitat. That said, I strongly recommend that you remain on the lookout for leopards while traversing through the reserve – you never know when you might come across one of these reclusive felines!
For higher chances of sightings, exploring along the Talek River is recommended, but you can also have good luck searching for them in the Mara Triangle.
Part of the reason to visit the Mara is to see the endangered black rhino.
In Masai Mara, you can find the Black Rhino, which is a slightly smaller but more aggressive species compared to the White Rhino. The White Rhino is more commonly found at Lake Nakuru. Rhinoceros is the proper name for this animal, and it belongs to one of the five extant species of odd-toed ungulates in the family Rhinocerotidae. Additionally, there are many extinct species of rhinoceros.. There is no difference in color between black rhinos and white rhinos, despite the name difference. Black rhinos are smaller than white rhinos and they use their horns for fighting, mating, and defense against predators. They also have a hooked lip which they use to eat shrubs and they prefer living in areas with dense vegetation.
Kenya is home to both the white and black rhino, although the white rhino is more commonly observed, especially near Lake Nakuru. The black rhino, slightly smaller and more aggressive, shows very little variation in color compared to its counterpart. While the Mara boasts a notable black rhino population, particularly in the Mara Triangle area, encountering rhinos during your Masai Mara safari is rather unlikely. Approximately 35-50 black rhinos reside in the Masai Mara at any given time, occasionally venturing into the Serengeti. Typically, solitary creatures, the only strong familial bond exists between a mother and her calf. With limited eyesight, black rhinos are quick to charge at any movement, regardless of reason. However, they possess an exceptional sense of hearing and smell. In the wild, black rhinos can live up to 35-40 years and reach heights of one and a half meters, with lengths of three and a half meters. On average, they weigh between 850 to 1600 kilograms.
Black Rhinos are the rarest of all the African Big 5 in Masai Mara. Initially, it was believed that Masai Mara only had the African Big 4. However, recently, Black Rhinos were spotted at the reserve, expanding the list to the African Big 5.
These beautiful creatures are a sight to behold. The Masai Mara Reserve is one of the best places in Africa to spot giraffes, as they roam freely here in large numbers. You can find both male and female giraffes enjoying the tall grasses that blanket the savannahs of this remarkable reserve.
The Cape Buffalo, also known as the African Buffalo, is renowned as one of the most perilous creatures in East Africa. Particularly, solitary males can exhibit aggression and unpredictability, weighing an impressive 800 kilograms. Such a formidable combination! Additionally, female buffalos fiercely protect their young and display extreme aggression. In the Mara, buffalos tend to gather in herds of approximately 100 individuals or more. They predominantly inhabit areas close to water sources, especially during the dry season.
The king of the big cats is the star attraction in the Masai Mara Reserve, with their large prides often seen out on a hunt. You’re most likely to spot them in dry open grassland areas where they have plenty of space to roam. Read more about Marsh Pride of lions.
You can find about 850 to 900 Lions in the Masai Mara National Reserve and its surrounding conservancies. The Masai Mara National Reserve, also known as the ‘Mara’, is widely considered to be one of the finest places in Kenya and East Africa to witness these impressive creatures in their natural habitat during a Safari. According to some sources, the population of lions significantly fell from a high of 30k population in the 70s to less than 1k now in 2023. This is partly because of human-wildlife conflict, habitat fragmentation, poaching, and loss of prey.
Lions are territorial animals, with male lions having territories that can range from 30 to 400 square kilometers. Lionesses are the primary hunters, but males will occasionally assist with a hunt. Check out our big cat safari packages here.