Ngorongoro, Tanzania

  • Date
  • 25 August 2000

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to the world’s largest crater – more than 240 square kilometers – created after a volcanic mountain, reportedly higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, erupted over two million years ago. Today the Ngorongoro Crater is teeming with wildlife, which cannot escape the bowl, making for an exceptional game drive. The down side, depending on how you look at things, is little sport remains in finding game, as animals are right, left, front and back of you.

Driving down into the Crater via a corrugated, bumpy, dusty dirt path with our knowledgeable and patient guide Tawanda, we first reached a salt lake with foam and flamingo feathers all around the outskirts. Abundant hyena, who kill daily, are keen on the Lesser and Greater flamingoes eating underwater vegetation. Several saline lakes attract the pink and white flamingoes, egrets, storks and the like, but the thousands of animals drink from the fresh ponds and lakes spread all over the Crater.

Groups, herds and long lines of wildebeest, Cape buffalo, Common zebra, waterbuck, Grant’s gazelle and eland cross the wide landmass in search of food, water and safety. Six thousand zebra live within this confine, so they are quite literally everywhere. The wildebeest tend to travel with the zebra, who have better senses of sight and smell and the zebra often congregate facing opposite directions, so predators can be spotted easier. At one watering hole, we found vultures, storks and hyenas feeding on a Cape buffalo, which had gotten stuck in the mud three days ago and died.

During a lunch stop, monkeys and elephants joined us and one small, furry monkey even stole my chocolate chip cookie. He took great joy in eating it slowly as I watched. The long, white tusks on the elephants come from the extensive salt in the land and lakes; the ivory is the longest we’ve seen.

We also came upon a sole lion panting breathlessly in a patch of golden grassland. The carcass of a wildebeest or a Cape buffalo rested nearby – half-eaten. Only the head and upper body remained with the entire lower part devoured. The early afternoon sun and heat, plus the exertion of the kill seemed to have sapped the lion resting without a concern of encroachers. An hour later we returned finding the lion a few meters closer to the carcass, but still breathing heavily. The lion, even a panting one, really rules out here. No other animal came near this lone lion and the fresh kill – no vultures above and no hyenas approaching.