We only had one day on the crater floor of Ngorongoro so set off early to make the most of it.
The track down to the floor was narrow and bumpy with rutted tire tracks. The views as we descended were superlative. The dry parched plains stretched out in every direction and were overlooked by the gigantic crater walls. The first animal we encountered was the warthog one of the more comical animals on the African plains. I have trouble taking them seriously as they peer at you over a snout covered in tusks and bristles in a quizzical manner. Their snouts were so big they cannot graze without getting down on their forelegs and when they run away they trot with their tails up high in the air.
We started our circuit of the crater floor and got a sense of the huge size of the thing. Its 19 miles in diameter and the walls were so far away they looked unreal. They were the backdrop to herds of zebra and wildebeest. First thing in the morning they were rather lethargic and slow. But there were hundreds of them in resident herds and they followed their leader nose to tail for an early morning drink. Zebras stick with wildebeest as the more stupid gnus dont have the zebras colour eyesight and generally get taken first.
A hyena put in an appearance. Head near the ground, mouth open and shoulders hunched she looked furtive even if she wasnt up to no good. The creature had a grotesque lope and may travel for miles – spreading out from the den in search for food. A family of warthogs were nearby cropping the grass and an ostrich strutted by with its black feathers and long legs.
Then the first of the ‘Big Five’ put in an appearance and through binoculars I could see a lion resting in the grass. He was a magnificent beast with a rich black mane. A lioness joined him and nuzzled her head with his. Our guide says due to the abundance of game the lions in Ngorongoro are lazy. He saw one pride of ten lions fail to bring down a lone buffalo a few weeks back.
The herds were in this vicintiy and trudged their way through the dust to the creek. This small river which leads to Lake Magadi which is a soda lake in the middle of the crater floor. Its been drying up for the last five years and there are some flamingoes left on this shore. The river still had flowing water and some wildebeest hung back from the herd to enjoy it. One found itself blocked form the herd by a wandering hyena. It ran back to the herd in a panic before the hyena spotted it. The hyena was making its way along the stream to the salt flats around the lake. In the distance, through binoculars, I could see a number of hyenas being sociable – tongues hanging out in the heat.
The herds also head for a nearby hippo pool and the surrounding marsh. One part of the pool had dried up making it sticky cloying mud. This did not seem to bother the hippos who were motionless unde water with just their backs showing. These pink/grey shapes were quiet until one hippo trod on anothers toe and let out a grunt.The others would grunt in unison to show they had been disturbed. There was a good population of birds including ibis, marabou storks and herons padding the long grasses of the marsh.
Our guide was here last year when a wildebeest was being chased by lions and jumped into the marsh to escape. It became trapped in the mud and died of exhaustion trying to free itself. He also witnessed a female hippo leaving the pool to give birth. She blundered into a pride of lions and didn't last long.
Hungry lion prides will take on anything. There is evidence in Botswana of them hunting elephants and Ngorongoro has lost at least one of its endangered black rhinos to the ‘King of the Beasts’.