|Ngorongoro Crater from crest|
Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Big Bowl They’ve Named the 8th Natural Wonder
The Ngorongoro Crater, as it’s known, is a naturally formed crater from a collapsed volcano some *cough* years ago. The land is fertile and lush, filled with greens and blues and blooming flowers… and wildlife.
We departed for Ngorongoro Crater at 7:30am. We were told that before descending into the crater, we would spend a small time conversing with the management team about the crater’s environment, economical impact, and…
Well, you’re bored, aren’t you, reading about this. To tell the truth, so were we. We were sitting literally on the crest of the crater, in an office (air-conditioned, the first I’ve seen since arriving in TZ), impatiently waiting to venture into the bowl and see the animals. We were being forced to waylay our safari for a lecture on infrastructure. After what seemed like a long half-hour we were released to our vehicles once more. Our driver, and wildlife ecology professor John Kioko, laughed at our uncontained excitement. Kioko drives like he’s running from the law every time he drives, and riding in his car is a guaranteed thrill, especially careening down a narrow mountain path into the crater.
The view of the crater was breathtaking from the top, but the view on the ground inside the crater is heart-stopping.
It should be noted, here and now, that on every drive through a national park, we are required to record the number of mammal species within 50 meters of our vehicle, and how many of each species’ individuals there are. Why is this important? Because within the first 2 minutes of reaching the base of the crater we spotted zebra, buffalo, eland, cheetahs, hyenas, wildebeest, and elephants. My hand-to-God, these creatures were all meandering about the entry into the crater and around a small lake, as if presenting themselves on their best behavior for the tourists.
Within the day we estimated a count (just our vehicle of 7 students and one teacher) of over 1000 zebra, 1000 buffalo, 2000 wildebeest, and 40 elephant. These are the big number animals, and were liberally littered about the plains. What I want to discuss are the rare, not-so-easy to spot animals.
Take, for instance, the cheetah. We saw three. Two were hunting, and one was lounging beneath the shade with some guinea fowl (no, surprisingly the bird wasn’t dead. I guess the big cat was already full). We also saw a cerval cat slinking through the tall grasses. A treat for the day were three black rhinos, extremely hard to find in the park, and we were gifted with two parents and a baby. Of course, they were visible only by binocular vision, but the awe was still there.
Hyenas, while I’m told are closer in species to cats, act quite like dogs. They trot, and lay in the sun, and lounge in small puddles of water. Often we drove only a few feet from hyenas as they lay in the puddles in the roads, trying to find some respite from the brilliant sun. The weather on this day was a perfect mix of sun, clouds, and a bit of a breeze to keep cool.
While I was enthused by the abundance of wildlife I’d only seen on television (and, let’s face it, the Lion King), my eyes were frantically scanning the tall grasses for my own favorite mammal. We were told initially that we weren’t likely to see these majestic creatures. There must have been some deity poking around our area that heard my pleas, because on this day I was awarded not one, but 7 of my favorite mammal: Panthera leo, or simply known as the lion.
Aslan, simba, lav, leeuw, leone, or leijona, the lion is distinguishable around the world as a large, fierce, and proud animal. In stories they’ve been named royalty in the wilds of Africa, and in history are often used as symbolism for families of the nobility (so, too, are the color purple, the mace, the flail & crook, and many others, but for now I’m gushing on my favorite large cat). We saw a group of females, a lone male sleeping soundly in the sunshine, and a family of two cubs, female, and male. The cubs were curious and often tried to make their way closer to our vehicle. It was quite a feat for me to resist reaching out my hand to grab one of the little fluff-balls, but I figured that while this was illegal, I was also at the mercy of the parent lions. So I withheld from my kidnapping endeavors, and instead settled on taking photos.
My smiles from the awesome sights of the day still hasn’t left my face. Lion cubs, and other animals of Africa, can certainly inspire a lot of smiling.