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Safari Day 23: Venturing about Ngorongoro on our last safari day

Lions kill a Zebra Photo,

White settlers had asked Maasai the name of this place and were told “Ngorongoro.” But the Maasai had misunderstood and gave the name for the sound their cow bells make. It is truly amazing to be in such a special, world-renowned place with such a wealth of truly representative African wildlife, enjoying it in such a perfect climate and sitting, as I am now, looking down into the caldera, contemplating it all. Very much the feeling I get when viewing the Grand Canyon back home.

It is a catch basin of so much typical wildlife and can be enjoyed in the relatively small, very open area. It is such a quiet, meditative place that reminds me how far humanity has drifted from the natural world. We have seen vast herds of wildebeest in zonal migration being lead and supervised by zebra. We have seen huge hippo wallowing in a picturesque grassland with zebra grazing nearby. Baboon, monkeys, Thomson gazelle, jackal, ostrich, elephant, wart hogs, hyena, and lions, all in life and death struggle in this small, contained area. We watched as five lions chased and killed a zebra while fellow zebras looked on vulnerably. We watched hyenas stand by, along with vultures, for leftovers, with even jackals wandering in for some fresh meat. This happens every day here, as evidenced by the number of dry and weathered bones scattered about. But here I sit, god-like, looking down on the lives of thousands of animals, and hear nothing.

It is so still, calm, and relaxing. The scene is so still and serene. I see a vast plain with a large white center, a small lake to one side of the white soda center, fingers of green splashed on this artist’s palette. Nice and cool, no sound at all, not even a breeze, mountains surround this basin, but the rim is somewhat obstructed by mist. It is hard to believe I am in the center of the African continent and even harder to believe our safari, our journey, to Africa will be ending the day after tomorrow, when we leave for London. While long and somewhat arduous, I have tried to keep reminding myself where I am and how special this experience is and keep my sense of adventure kindled. Sometimes even the most special things become mundane when one gets such a big dose over and over. I suppose I will have to await being home, seeing our photos and videos, to realize how special this was. We have seen a lot, done a lot, traveled great distances, and have been treated very well. Was it worth it? Yes! It was worth every penny! When we travel we learn about our world, the environment, people, ecosystems, nature, and history. We see it and hear it from those who live it. We also learn about ourselves and our place in the world.

Slept OK, although my wife left the entry way light on. We were up, dressed, and ate breakfast on time. Cool mist again shrouded most of the crater. We rolled out of the lodge about 9am. We drove down the way we did yesterday. At the bottom we went through the same acacia forest but followed a slightly different route. As best as I can tell, we explored the northern portion of the caldera. We saw vast herds of wildebeest in a zonal migration to better watering holes. Always they were lead and escorted by zebra. In fact, we saw zebra braying at wildebeest that ventured away from the single-file march.

Then it happened! About 500m away, we witnessed our first successful lion kill of a zebra. It happened so quickly. Five lions were in fast pursuit of a swift zebra. The zebra maneuvered from side to side trying to throw off its attackers. The lions worked as a well-orchestrated team moving in unison to the zebra, but always gaining ground in this life-and-death drama. The lions were very focused and the zebra was quickly tiring. One lion leaped forward and caught the back of the zebra. The other four lions quickly jumped on its back and toppled it into a swampy embankment. It was over so fast. The lions hovered around the zebra, obviously killing it. One lion emerged very muddy, with the zebra lying dead behind it. This in front of a herd of zebra frozen still. While the lions were feeding, both hyena and jackals moved into the perimeter. Then came a couple of hippos that temporarily scared the lions away, only to return when the hippos moved on. My daughter was sad  but understood that this is real life in nature.

We drove on seeing more lions, hyena, and jackal. We continued to see herds of zebra and wildebeest. We saw more gazelle, lots of ostrich, and elephants. I noticed lots of bones drying in the open. We saw an elephant skull at a distance.

It was surprisingly cool all day, despite some sunlight. We were cold at times, so we stood up for only short periods in the wind. We picnicked at the same pond as yesterday. While eating, a very large elephant casually strolled to the edge of the where the cars were parked. I guess he was heading through, but when he saw all the cars and people, he changed his mind and hung out at the edge of the pond, apparently waiting for everyone to leave.

We drove toward the center of the crater to the edge of the small lake next to the soda flats. There were about two dozen flamingos wading in the water. Most were white, some pink. We then drove a little farther to a pond among some green reeds and large green grass grazing land. The pond had about a dozen hippos of sizes up to that of a car. Many were doing complete rolls in the water. All were continuously using their short, stubby tails to splash water on themselves. Every so often, one would make a very loud trumpeting sound, which was then joined by others. In the background was a very large herd of zebra. The lighting was right, the blue of the water was perfect, the grasslands were greener then green, and the contrast of the stripped zebra grazing and the dark gray hippos was absolutely perfect for photos. The advantage of a private safari is that I was able to ask our driver to stay at this spot for half an hour while I just stood and took in the whole scene.

We then drove toward the exit in the crater, passing a Maasai tending his extensive cattle herd. Most try to either sell tourists trinkets or collect money for photos. It's hard to believe that these people once stretched from Cairo all through Africa and were as fierce as the Zulu.

We passed a very large troop of baboons on our way up the very steep road out. Most did not want to move for our vehicle, so we just watched. Several males were fighting and screeching. There were several females with tiny cute babies clutching their chest while they seemingly conversed amongst themselves.

We ascended from 5,500 feet elevation at the crater floor to 7,300 feet at the rim. We passed by the very expensive Ngorongoro Crater lodge. Nearby was the Simba campground, where a few years ago an American child was attacked in his tent while sleeping and killed by a hyena. At our lodge we rested and packed for the long day tomorrow. We went to dinner. As we finished eating, we heard the familiar song by the dinning room staff, “jambo, jambo bwana ...” To our surprise, it was for us, accompanied by a cake. We were thanked for staying with them for 3 days. We went back to the room, showered, and went to bed.

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