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The Greater Mara Ecosystem

Mara Ecosystem

The Maasai Mara ecosystem is home to approximately 25% of Kenya’s wildlife. It hosts more than 95 mammal species besides being a recognized Important Bird Area (IBA) with 550 bird species. Presently, about 70 per cent of this wildlife is living outside the gazetted conservation area -the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Adjacent land owned by local communities form key dispersal and diversity areas.

The last 30 to 40 years has seen rapid and unequal socio-economic development in the Mara, due in part to a history of land grabbing, poor governance, corruption and a lack of transparency. A series of failed land management and ownership regimes, including communal land managed as group ranches, has left a legacy of distrust and a lack of community cohesion. After the failure of group ranches, land was subdivided among members, with a few powerful individuals amassing extensive benefits, while the majority of landowners remained disempowered and disenfranchised. Broken trust and weak regulatory frameworks have led to unplanned development and exploitation of the resources of the Mara, with stakeholders lacking a vision of what sustainable management of the Mara could or should be.

The 2013 Wildlife Act created the enabling conditions for conservation to become a viable land-use, but several interlinked factors compromise this possibility. Exponential human population growth is estimated at 10.5%, with the youth population estimated to be 65% (a high percentage of whom are unemployed), which creates ever growing demand for land and resources, increases in agricultural cultivation, and stimulates unplanned development of infrastructure and urban centres. And while traditional Maasai livelihoods depend on livestock raised on communal rangelands, which in turn maintains habitat for wildlife, a number of socio-economic shifts, including increasing needs for cash for school and medical fees, are threatening the viability of traditional rangeland management practices. A weak cash economy and limited job market has contributed to on-going land subdivision, with land being sold to outsiders who have little interest in the sustainable management of natural resources. This subdivision is driving a rampant increase in fencing and conversion to land uses other than traditional grazing. Land is becoming increasingly fragmented, negatively impacting contiguous landscapes for wildlife migrations and making areas under cultivation inaccessible to wildlife. This fragmentation increases the risks from climate change, which has caused shifts in weather patterns and erratic and unpredictable seasons.

In addition to the socio-economic changes, the GME has also seen a proliferation of tourist facilities in the past 12 years. In the late 1970s there were less than ten lodges in and around the MMNR, and by 2004 this number was still less than 40. Until 2004 a moratorium on new construction in the MMNR kept the expansion under control, however after 2004 the moratorium was dropped and there was a massive explosion of tourism and tourist facilities. The fast growth of tourism outside of the reserve has been augmented by the subdivision of former group ranches, with new private landowners often choosing to lease their land to tourism investors. By 2008 there were 140 accommodation facilities in the Reserve and on the surrounding conservancies and today it is estimated at near 200.


A cultural landscape where communities and partners secure wildlife and sustainable livelihoods for a better future.


To conserve the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem, through a network of protected areas, for the prosperity of all – biodiversity and wildlife, the local population, and recreation and tourism for the nation of Kenya.


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