The ecosystem of the Great Masai Mara lies in the heart of the land inhabited by the Maasai people and here, more than elsewhere, these semi-nomadic breeders, who migrated to this area in the 18th century from what is now South Sudan, have found themselves to challenge a series of events that led to a change of their economic activities.
In the past, the Maasai lived exclusively of the proceeds of livestock and farmed the land for subsistence only; they used to move frequently in search of new pastures for their cattle and build fences to protect them.
During the colonial period, the Maasai were not allowed to lead their cattle to some areas in an attempt to protect them from the exploitation of pastures; the Maasai were divided into clans, and each of these was given land for livestock.

After the second half of the twentieth century, the Maasai moved further South with their cattle, near the borders of the Masai Mara National Reserve, following the increase of cultivated land further North and deforestation of the lands in the South, the acacia bushes, the on site proliferation of the tsetse fly, that formerly was a threat to Masai cattle.

Kenyan Government then tried to restrict nomadic habits and subdivided the Masai lands further and recognised the ownership of each household instead of clans; although this partly produced the desired effect of greater permanence on one hand, it increased the construction of barriers for wildlife on the other, as they begun to fence their property.
There were also violent incidents against wild animals attacking the cattle and the cattle themselves damaged the wild flora of the area while browsing; another problem was the presence of the villages and the fenced farmed fields cultivated by the Maasai with subsistence crops, that formed a barrier to the free movement of wild animals in these lands.
The establishment of private reserves and conservation areas since 2005 has partly reduced the problem because the Maasai landowners have reached an agreement with the managers of the reserves under which they have removed their villages from the private reserves and no longer lead their livestock for grazing so as to allow the vegetation to regenerate and return to the original state, thus leaving free space for wild animals that cross the boundaries of the Masai Mara National Reserve; in return they have at their disposal the conservation areas where they build their villages and keep their cattle.

In exchange for this commitment, considering that they own the lands, the private reserves pay them a rent for using them; in addition, part of the revenues from tourism is invested by the reserves to improve the living conditions of Masai communities from different points of view.

Most of the lodges and tented camps that are established in private reserves and in the Masai Mara National Reserve recruit the Maasai as guardians or waiters and pay them a salary that helps improve their standard of living; some of them have been trained to become safari guides and lodge and tented camp managers thanks to their living experience in the savannah.
Many tourists visit the villages to discover the traditional lifestyle of these people; they generally pay an entrance fee and also buy colourful fashion jewellery and other accessories handcrafted by the village women and for the Maasai are worldwide known for this.
All this has contributed to an increase in their earnings and an improvement of the lifestyle of the Maasai who live in this area, and has become their primary source of income.

So, despite the cattle still remain the core of their activities, not only for economic reasons but also, and above all, for the links with their traditions  and religion and because livestock is a symbol of power and wealth, it can be said that the Maasai have changed part of their activities for profit-making purposes; this definitely had a positive effect on the conservation of nature and wildlife, in that wild animals are no longer considered a problem by the Maasai but rather a source of income.

Despite all this, episodes of intolerance against wild animals by the Maasai still occur.
It may happen that lions attack a Maasai cow and the Maasai poison the cow carcass with the precise intent of killing guilty lions; in this way, they not only commit a crime in killing these wonderful big cats but also kill other animals, especially scavengers, who usually feed on carcasses, such as hyenas, jackals and vultures, thus creating a huge damage and causing the loss of specimens belonging to species that are at risk of extinction or are severely endangered.