Kenya’s Maasai Mara may be a vast and remote wilderness, packed with landscapes that seem as if they’re frozen in time, but modern road linkages have made the protected nature area more accessible than ever from Nairobi.
Getting to the gate of the reserve from Kenya’s sprawling capital-Nairobi, involves a road journey of more than 200km, which takes travellers through the rolling hillsides and tea plantations of Kiambu County before traversing the dramatic drop into the Great Rift Valley and continuing southwest towards the Tanzanian border.
On our recent field assignment to the Maasai Mara, the economic effects of COVID-19 on the commercial activities that in past years would have lined this route were on full display. Tour buses and safari vans were few and far between, leaving the food and souvenir sellers who had set up shop with few customers to entice with their wares.
The rise of other sectors of the local economy besides tourism was also evident. The flat rangelands of southern Narok County would have once played host to all manner of wild animals, from elephants and gazelles to giraffes and zebras. But livestock rearing is leaving its mark on the landscape as well, with newly erected fences divvying up grazing fields that once would have fed herds of buffalo and wildebeest, but now instead feed the bellies of domestic cattle herds.
If what we saw at the Maasai Mara National Reserve told us anything about what to expect on the other side of its gates, it’s that southern Kenya remains a region on the move, where fast-changing trends in infrastructure development, land management and public health are continuing to change the fortunes of the people and animals that inhabit it.