We spent New Year's Day, 2012 in Ngorongoro Crater. It was a great way to bring in the new year. We actually enjoyed our two days in this Conservation Area more than we had enjoyed the Serengeti. The fact that we saw about a dozen lions in our first hour probably had something to do with that....
I had been looking forward to exploring this amazing-looking area since our quick glimpse into the bowl on the way to Serengeti. It is a collapsed volcano (caldera) about 20km wide, which means that there is a large concentration of wildlife in a fixed location. The only animals that don't venture into the crater are giraffes, because they have trouble going down hills! We saw even more wildlife than usual because there were still quite a few straggling wildebeest and zebras following the Great Migration.
Here are some highlights:
1) Two huge male lions walk along the red dirt road through the tropical forest descending into the crater. One of them was relaxing in the tall grass beside the road when we arrived. When he got up to move, Chuck and I poked our heads over the side of our safari
truck to watch him walk past. He caught our movement and looked us right in the eyes, giving a warning growl. Talk about a primal fear moment....
2) A pair of ridiculous wildebeest halfheartedly fights, standing on their heads and rubbing their faces in the dirt to lock horns.
3) A pride of lions feeds on a buffalo in the distance. Daring jackals dart in and out to grab scraps of meat tossed aside by the lions. The gorged lions with bulging bellies walk one by one past the safari trucks on their way to find a drink or find some shade. They seem completely oblivious to the gawking humans and the huge clusters of flies attracted to the congealing blood on their muzzles. Two lionesses choose the shade of a safari truck to lie down and nap while digesting their breakfast! When the lions have eaten their fill, the hyenas, jackals and vultures move in for their turn.
4) An enterprising female hyena manages to grab a whole buffalo foreleg and runs away with it, stopping every few meters to put it down in the grass and catch her breath. It must have weighed about 20
lbs! Another hyena follows at a distance, either to share in the feast, or to steal it; it is hard to tell!
5) A serval cat grooms himself in the tall grass by a bubbling brook. Several guinea hens scold him from a neighbouring tree.
6) A black kite feeds on some sort of prey clutched in its talons, peering and squawking at the safari trucks every few bites.
7) A female black rhino grazes calmly until two hyenas come too close on their way to a nearby mud hole. She tosses her horns and stomps her feet and the hyenas scuttle away.
8) A newborn Thompson's gazelle zig zags desperately as it tries to elude a pursuing hyena. The baby is amazingly fast and agile, and the female gazelles in the group try to distract the hyena by bounding across its path to confuse it. I am hopeful that the baby will get away, but this is Nature after all, and soon another hyena arrives to relieve the first one, who is starting to slow down. Luckily this all takes place very far away and I don't see the mis-step and the kill, but the
baby disappears from view and the two hyenas are rooting around intently. The rest of the gazelles seem to mill around uncertainly afterwards. Some nearby wildebeest and zebra don't even get up!
9) A mother hyena guards her small pups in a muddy depressing in the grass. We can't see them at all except when they pop their heads up for a look around. Two older pups relax nearby. An unknown male hyena approaches and the mother rushes at him to chase him away, as do the brave older pups. The unknown male finds his own mud hole nearby. A familiar male (the mate?) approaches, dodging some fierce warthog sows protecting their piglets along the way. The mother hyena watches him until he gets close enough to recognize, then gives him a nip as a greeting and they settle down in the mud together. It is a great little family scene!
10) There is an elephant in the distance with the longest tusks we've ever seen! They almost touch the ground!
As you can tell from the descriptions above, the sheer number and variety of animals that we could see in all directions was astounding, especially after
travelling through the vast Serengeti savannah for hours at a time and only glimpsing the occasional bird. It was also possible to stay in one place and watch various scenes play out, such as the activity around the buffalo carcass, or the end of the poor baby gazelle. The scenery itself was beautiful as well, including a tropical forest around the bowl of the crater, a huge lake filled with pink flamingoes, a hippo pond, and an exotic Yellow Acacia forest. We were definitely glad that we'd arranged to spend two days in the crater. The only downside was that we had to drive in and out of the Conservation Area each day. There are places to stay within it, but they are apparently quite expensive.
The last day of this tour was to be spent doing a walking safari in Arusha National Park. We didn't have very high hopes for wildlife sightings on this safari because we assumed that the animals would be afraid of people on foot, as they had been on our previous walking safaris in Kruger National Park and the Okavango Delta. In fact, this ended up being one of the best days of the
tour! We had an excellent ranger-guide, the scenery at the base of Mt Meru was beautiful, and the animals weren't afraid at all! We had several curious giraffes follow our approach, a herd of Cape Buffalo barely glance up from grazing as we walked by, and we almost got run over by a warthog bursting out of a burrow. There was also a troop of baboons and a group of warthogs feeding together. Apparently the warthogs will turn over the clumps of grass and the baboons can then get at the grubs and seeds underneath. We would definitely recommend a stop at this National Park if you are in the Arusha area. There is something about approaching these animals on foot that enriches the experience in a completely different way.
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