It’s a Wild Life in the Crater

Trip Start May 03, 2011
Trip End May 10, 2012

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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of Ngorongoro District. The Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera, lies within the area.

The area is part of the Serengeti ecosystem and, to the north-west, it adjoins the Serengeti National Park and is contiguous with the southern Serengeti plains, these plains also extend to the north into unprotected Loliondo division and are kept open to wildlife through transhumance pastoralism practiced by Maasai. The south and west of the area are volcanic highlands, including the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the lesser known Empakai. The southern and eastern boundaries are approximately defined by the rim of the Great Rift Valley wall, which also prevents animal migration in these directions.

A population of approximately 25,000 large animals, largely ungulates along with reputedly the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, lives in the crater. Large animals in the crater include the black rhinoceros, the local population of which declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995, and the hippopotamus, which is very uncommon in the area. There also are many other ungulates: the wildebeest (7,000 estimated in 1994), the zebra (4,000), the eland, and Grant's and Thompson's gazelles (3,000).

The crater has the densest known population of lions, numbering 62 in 2001. On the crater rim are leopards, elephants – numbering 42 in 1987 but only 29 in 1992 – mountain reedbuck, and buffalo (4,000 in 1994). In the middle of the crater there is a large lake inhabited by hundreds of flamingoes and from a distance, they appear as a pink border of the lake.

At the end of day 2 of our 3 day safari we left the Serengeti and headed for the Ngorongoro

Crater. We were staying at the Ngorongoro Lodge Hotel, which sits on the rim of the crater and has the most phenomenal views over the crater. The rooms were wonderful and you could tell that this was a 5 star lodge as we got a hot towel and drink as soon as we arrived. We are not used to such luxury after staying in some dodgy backpackers around the world. We even got his and his dressing gowns in the room. Even though we were only staying at the lodge for one night we made the most of our dressing gowns and wore them all evening.

After a hearty breakfast the next morning we set off on our final day of safari. When you look at the crater from above it is difficult to believe that many animals live here although for the size it has the largest concentration of wildlife in any national park in Africa. There is one road into the crater and one road out and you are only allowed to stay in the crater for 6 hours. This is because during high season there is a lot of game drives happening at once and so they try to restrict the number of vehicles in the crater at once. Luckily we are here in low season and so there were relatively few other vehicles in the crater at the same time as us.

As we headed down the crater we started to see the large number of animals on the crater floor. Herds of antelope and zebra were everywhere. Then we spotted two huge male lions resting about halfway down the crater. These where easily the biggest lions we had seen so far during any of our game drives in Africa. Their mains were huge and Barick told us that the lions here need to be big and strong as it is quite a small area so they are constantly fighting with other lions to protect their territories and their prides.

We continued our drive near to the lake and saw a number of hyenas and three lionesses in the distance across the lake. Ngorongoro lake is a beautiful setting as it has hundreds of flamingoīs set as a backdrop against the other African animals that come to drink and bathe in the lake. We saw more big cats as we were on our way to have our picnic and we spotted a young male lion lying in the sun right next to the road. The next big cat we saw took us by surprise as we were sat watching a rhino and itīs young. We didnīt notice a cheetah sat in the sun on the opposite side of the road. Once we saw the cheetah we moved across the road keeping one eye on the rhinos and the other on the cheetah. A lone wildebeest started approaching the cheetah tentatively as if trying to check out exactly what it was. We thought that the wildebeest must have a death wish after the cheetah ambush that we had witnessed in the Serengeti but Barick advised us that a lone cheetah would never kill a wildebeest as it is too big. The reason that we had seen the cheetahs kill a wildebeest in the Serengeti was because there had been three of them to overpower the wildebeest. We continued to see more and more lions throughout the drive but they were always in the distance so we needed the binoculars to get a good look.

We continued to spot all different kinds of antelope that we had never seen before and massive elephants on the crater floor. The elephants here have huge tusks and grow very big due to the abundance of minerals within the lake and the grass of the crater. This keeps the elephants looking really healthy and ensures that their tusks grow and grow.

Probably the most amazing animal that we saw in Ngorongoro was the four black rhinoīs. Widespread poaching across the whole of Africa has meant that most rhinos have either been killed or removed from the unprotected wild for their protection. They are then kept in remote areas to try to halt their extinction and improve the numbers of wild rhinoīs for the future. In Tanzania there are only about 50 rhinos left in the wild. As Ngorongoro is a crater they are able to keep their 22 rhinoīs relatively safe as armed rangers patrol the rim of the crater 24 hours a day.

There really is an abundance of wildlife in the crater itself but many animals also live on the rim of the crater and make the journey in and out of the crater when they need to. I think both Rob and I agreed that Ngorongoro was the best National Park that we have visited. The crater setting it so beautiful and the number of animals that we saw in a 6 hour period was phenomenal. This is not to take anything away from the other national parks that we have visited as they have all been awesome and so different from each other but Ngorongoro had the lot and would be at the top of the list for an African safari. We are visiting the Masai Mara next so watch this space as this may change. As it stands Ngorongoro gets a WILD 100/10 on our trip-o-meter :0))))).
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