Day 5: Ngorongoro Crater

It must have been a first today – Mr and Mrs L having breakfast at 6.30am!

Picnic boxes collected by Cosmos and we were all aboard our Land Cruiser and heading off to the crater at 7.00am. We had a steep drive down to the volcanic crater which sits 600m below the rim and has a 19km diameter and covers approximately 300 square km. The crater is a vast unbroken caldera left behind when an enormous volcano collapsed 2.5 million years ago. As we got to the bottom Mr L had a very briefing sighting of a lioness before she disappeared into a wooded area.

One difference between Nduti in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro is that you cannot drive off road and have to stick to marked routes, this means you cannot get as close to the wildlife here as we did in Nduti. The binoculars were essential and Mrs L’s camera zoom was used to the max! Mrs L’s excellent little camera was put to shame by the astoundingly large cameras being used in some of the other safari vehicles – some looked almost unliftable without a crane!!

There is everything here in the crater apart from giraffe. Wildebeest and zebra have become mundane viewing for Mr and Mrs L now……. There are loads of warthog in the crater as they really only have lion as their predator. Warthogs are ugly buggers……..as Cosmos says, they are one of the ‘Ugly Five’ which include warthogs, hyenas, vultures, Marabou storks – add your own personal ugly favourite for the fifth one!

We have now seen all of the ‘Big Five’ – lion, African elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. We managed 2 sightings of the very rare black rhinoceros – and they were 2 different black rhinos. There are only about 20 in the crater having previously been hunted almost to extinction in the 1970s and 1980s. There were originally 108 in the crater in the 1960s and only 14 left in 1995 so numbers are slowly increasing. Poaching is now under control and trophy hunting long since banned (end of the 1930s). Rhino horn was wanted for dagger handles in the Arabian peninsula and ‘pep’ potions in China. The black rhino population across all of Tanzania is now under 200, having been 10,000 in the 1960s; the authorities keep their location secret apart from those in the Ngorongoro crater. The term ‘Big Five’ was a coined by hunters and refers to the 5 most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The Big Five are not necessarily the biggest but are amongst the most dangerous animals. The hippopotamus is the second most dangerous animal in Africa after the malaria mosquito. If you get between a hippopotamus and water and/or it’s young it will kill you without fail.

There were no cheetah sightings today and the leopard we saw on our first day remains the one and only sighting – there are lots of them around but very difficult to find so we were really fortunate. We saw lion again and the male lion today was older than the male we saw in Nduti as his mane was much darker. Male lions develop their mane at around 3 years of age and it gradually darkens with maturity.

Mbuni (ostrich) - in the distance due to limitations of the iPhone camera!

Mbuni (ostrich) – in the distance due to limitations of the iPhone camera!

We had first sightings of a number of new animals and birds today: vervet monkey, eland, golden jackal, spotted hyena, cervocet (miniature cat that looks a cross between a leopard and a cheetah, domestic cat sized – a gorgeous looking thing), crowned cranes (national bird of Uganda), Kori bustard (world’s heaviest flying bird), oxpecker, bateleur eagle, and numerous other birds which we can’t remember what they are called (Cosmos has an amazing knowledge, we need to get a book to remind us what he told us).

We also saw the quinine tree – it’s bark is used to treat malaria, and the yellow bark acacia tree – the bark of which is used to treat yellow fever. The hundreds or even thousands of lesser flamingos on the shallow and alkaline Lake Magadi were an amazing spectacle as were the flock of ibis that swarmed and circled over the plains – hopefully the photo will do the sight justice.

A lovely evening and pleasant meal for our last night here at the Wildlife Lodge at Ngorongoro before we start the long drive back to Arusha and then fly on to Zanzibar. Mr and Mrs L have made it to 10pm tonight – an achievement, but it will be lights out very shortly!

Animals seen today: lion, baboons, elephant, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, warthog, spotted hyena, golden jackal, hartebeest, eland, Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, vervet monkey, black rhinoceros, black-backed jackal, hippopotamus.

Birds seen today: flamingos, ostriches, secretary bird, ibis, crowned crane, Kori bustard, oxpecker, bateleur eagle, and many more……..

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