Ngonorgoro Conservation Area is comprised of the crater floor of an extinct volcano along with the surrounding land around the crater's rim. It is here that many Maasai have been relocated by the government in order to create the Serengeti National Park. As such, they are permitted to descend the crater rim to the floor in order to provide food and water to their livestock (mostly cows and goats).
The Maasai also attempt to earn a living from the tourism trade through the sale of their crafts including beaded jewelry and wood carvings. You can also find them along the road through the area in attract visitors to come take their photos . . . for a price. Yes the American Greenback is highly sought by the locals.
On our first drive through the area heading for the Serengeti National Park, we stopped at a group of young Maasai in black attire and white face paint. It was explained to us that these "boys" recently became men through the public circumcision ceremony performed by village elders on 14 year old boys. It is through this ritual that they become men, which begins with time spent away from the village on their own. During this period they wear the black clothing and white face paint. Upon their return, they may take a wife and start their family.
I have to say, our group was thoroughly turned off by the aggressive nature of the Maasai here and elsewhere in their attempts to get visitors to buy goods from them or to give them money in donation for their village. It is the ugly side of the tourism industry in East Africa. But enough about that!
The wildlife viewing in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is primarily focused on the crater floor. The area is easily navigated on decent dirt roads and provides visitors to access to not only the arid dry landscape but also areas that are lush and green thanks to the natural resource of water. We saw several areas that were abundant in water wildlife including where we stopped for lunch. We saw a lot of birds and hippos in the water, to even enjoy a brief visit by an entire herd of wildebeest stopping by for a drink.
Another area that was fascinating was the spring fed marshy area where a large group of elephants resided. We turned a corner and there they were. I think we startled them as much as we were startled by their presence. It was amazing to see how protective the matriarch was of a very small infant, our guide estimated to be just a few months old. She got between the us and the baby & mom. It was clear she was not going to allow us to come any closer to them.
It was in the Ngorongoro where we got to see a pack of hyenas for the first time. All other viewings were of single or pairs, but here there was a pack of probably 12 or 15, maybe as many as 20, attempting to take away the kill a pair of lions was feasting on. There were also a couple of jackals attempting to steal a bite as well, but it was the hyenas that were very assertive in their take-away attempts. The lions were very impatient and agitated by the entire scene, often standing up and moving away with their portion of the remains.
At one point a hyena did get what appeared to be a leg portion, with others chasing after it. When another hyena caught up with the first and stole the food, the chase was off in another direction. When the pack's alpha acquired the leg, the chase ended. Incredible!
It was also here that we were privileged to observe a full hunt and kill, a rarity for any safari goer. We first saw the cheetah relaxing in the tall grass some 300 yards from a small group of gazelle. When it stood up, it appeared to just be talking a walk perhaps in search of shade. Then all of a sudden, it took an entirely different posture, slinked down and walking nearly flat with the grass. The hunt was on as it stalked its prey.
Within a few minutes, less than ten, the cheetah was running full speed and had the gazelle down on the ground. It only took it 90 seconds from the first point of attack to suffocate its prey. When it was all over, I could not believe from our first sighting of the cheetah to the end of the kill, less than 15 minutes had lapsed. We had no idea when we first rolled up to that area what would be in store of us in terms of witnessing life and death in its rawest form in the wild.
This took place on our last full day in Tanzania and near the end of our safari adventure. As great as the trip had been to that point, it was exponentially enhanced by this short 15 minute experience.