The holy grail of game viewing at Ngorongoro has to be the black rhino.
To say they are an endangered species is something of an understatement. There are only thirteen left in the crater and each one is guarded around the clock like a precious jewel. Poaching is pretty much under control in the crater but their numbers have never really recovered and they are exceptionally hard to spot and people spend days in the crater and come away without a sighting. For me, it would be the last of the ‘Big Five’.
So it was with some excitement that our guide received word over the radio that a rhino had been seen and he sped off at high speed. About a mile away on grassland under the slopes of the crater walls was a mass of safari vehicles. We were not the only ones to get word on the rhino. In the foreground was a small herd of grazing zebras but in the distance was the distinctly squat shape of a black rhino.
We could not get any closer as off road driving isn’t allowed in Ngorongoro and they are best viewed through binoculars. Our rhino had a huge set of horns and an elongated body. It did look like a throwback to a more prehistoric age. Black rhinos are the more aggressive species then the whites and due to poor eyesight have been known to charge vehicles. This was as close as we could get and we had a packed lunch here in the vain idea that it might move closer. It didn’t.
We left the scrum of safari vans behind and continued into the park. On the river bank we encountered a herd of Cape buffalo. It was a small herd of young bulls and as we approached they lost their nerve and tried to hide in the bushes. It was quite funny to see big burly feared buffalo try to wriggle behind bushes in an attempt not to be seen. I’ve always had a soft spot for buffalo. But they are dangerous animals. When they turn to look at you you know they are wondering which part of you to trample first.
We were crossing the grasslands and we were brought up short by a hyena lying by the side of the track. She was a huge great brute stretched along the roadway and making no attempt to move. We got very close to her and she looked up at us with big pleading wet "dog" eyes which said "Poor me...I’m having a bad time" She had such an unhappy face. We saw why when another van came up behind us and spooked her. She limped away in pain. A lion fight? Another clan? A kick by a zebra? My heart went out to her as life is short for a damaged hyena on these plains.
Our final stop was a picnic area that could only be described as idyllic. It was a large pond that bordered on being called a lake. The far side was reeds and our side was rocky. There were hippos in the pool and they seem to tease the tourists by submerging just as they clicked their camera shutters. But it was the nearby birdlife that was a joy – guinea fowl scuttled everywhere, ibis’ strode the reeds and kites fluttered above waiting for a meal. A lovely place.
And it was with a heavy heart that we finally left the crater. It is a ‘once in a lifetime’ place and if you love animals you will love it here. To me it is one of the most wonderful places I have ever been – a true world treasure.