Friday 7 February 2003
Despite my confident
prediction in the bar last night that there would be an overnight torrential
downpour of biblical proportions, it did not rain at all, so we decide it would
be a good day to visit the Ngorongoro Crater.
Before doing so,
however, we have a little unfinished business to attend to closer to home.
You will recall that a couple of nights ago we had been awoken early by
the sound of lions roaring but had then been unable to find them after sunrise.
Well, this morning we do find them. Only
a couple of kilometres from the lodge on the Lake Masek side of Lake Ndutu we
witness, alone, an orgy of greeting, rubbing and flirting between three large
(and very active!) male lions and four lionesses. Each male flirts with a
female, apart from one of the lucky brothers who has two females flirting with
him. As the whole scene is bathed
with a soft morning light I am hoping for some good photos – I have checked
the camcorder already which has the lions looking golden in the morning
sunshine. It is always nice to
witness interesting animal behaviour, and with lions you most often end up
watching them sleeping in the midday sun so we feel very lucky indeed.
After half an hour or
so we continue on our way towards the crater.
In terms of wildlife viewing, visiting the crater after spending time in
the wide-open spaces of the Serengeti plains at migration time is always going
to be somewhat of an anti-climax. Not
only is the quantity of animals present far less, but also the actual area of
the crater seems tiny in comparison. (However, it can be argued that this
would go for just about any wildlife experience after viewing the migration
here). This surprises me a little
as I have visited the crater twice before on other trips and have been incredibly
impressed – I suppose this is what visiting Ndutu in February does for you!
Ngorongoro Crater is justifiably known as the eighth natural wonder of the world
and is a veritable Garden of Eden. The
crater floor spans approximately twelve by ten miles and the rim of the crater
rises some two thousand feet above. Virtually
all the major species (excluding giraffes) are found there in good numbers
(especially impressive are the large herds of buffalo), and it is one of the few
places in Tanzania where you can see the endangered Black Rhino – we saw four,
which comprises about a quarter of the crater’s total population.
What is interesting
about the animals – particularly the wildebeest and zebra – in the crater is
that their lives seem so much easier than their relatives in the Serengeti (if
this is not a foolish judgment to make sitting in the comfort of a Toyota Land
Cruiser sipping a bottle of coca cola!). Provided the rains do not fail they
only have to travel a short distance to drink, grazing is good, and although
there is a relatively high density of lions, they do not have to migrate.
Having already witnessed the mass exodus of wildebeest and zebra from the
Ndutu area towards the hidden valley along dusty tracks due to the lack of rain,
the calves and foals in tow being picked off by innumerable opportunist predators,
this advantage is not to be lightly dismissed.
Also they provide better photo opportunities as being that much more
used to cars, they happily approach much closer.
A highlight of the
visit today is taking an interesting lunch at the picnic spot next to the hippo
pool near Mandusi swamp, watching the grunting hippos and dodging large numbers
of potentially dangerous black kites which circle overhead looking to part
unsuspecting tourists from their food.
The last time I
visited the crater I was fortunate enough to see one of the most incredible
sequence of events I have ever seen (see the page entitled Tanzanian
Crater Madness for details), and although we did not see anything like that
this time, it just shows you how unpredictable wildlife viewing can be and no
matter how often you go on safari it is always best to remember the following
an open mind