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Ngorongoro National Conservation Area, Tanzania
The Ngorongoro National Conservation Area is located in Northern Central Tanzania and is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park to it’s West. The area is specifically famous for the Crater which is an ancient volcanic caldera dating back about 2.5 million years ago.
Although we visited some areas of the conservation area outside of the crater, the crater was certainly the highlight. The crater itself is about 610 meters (2000 feet) deep and about 260 square meters (1000 square miles).
The inside of the crater is generally made up of a giant plain that has several lakes in it depending on seasonality. There are very few trees or bush to speak of making for an interesting geography. The crater is a beautiful place as the simplicity of the plains running directly into a steep mountainous wall that runs 360 degrees around you creates a very surreal location.
As for wildlife, there are about 25,000 animals within the crater itself! And without trees or bush, they are all quite visible. The real challenge with the crater is the proximity in which you can get to animals. Although the park is relatively small, there are very few roads that you are able to drive on (off road is not permitted) making it difficult to get very close to animals.
Enough griping for now! We really enjoyed the crater even with the distance from the animals and saw a few things we had not seen before.
The Crater Landscape
As I mentioned, the crater landscape is gorgeous! We went into the crater just as the sun was rising making for a very dramatic entry (sound the trumpets).
We had seen dozens of Kori Bustard prior to the crater, but none quite like this one. The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird in the world. The male Kori Bustard is 120 to 150 cm (3.9 to 4.9 ft), stands 71–120 cm (2.33–3.9 ft) tall and have a wingspan about 230 to 275 cm (7.5 to 9.02 ft). On average, male birds weigh between 10.9–16 kg (24–35 lb), averaging 13.5 kg (30 lb) but exceptional birds may weigh up to 20 kg (44 lb). Just imagine a 40lb flying bird!
As we approached this Kori Bustard, he was standing straight up, had filled the “balloon” in his throat to expand his neck, and had his tail feathers stood erect. He was in full breeding mode and will aim to attract multiple females.
Until the Ngorongoro Crater, we had only seen Hyena on their own. They are difficult to find as they are nocturnal, but we were lucky enough to find an entire pack (10+) of them in the Ngorongoro Crater! We watched as a group of them finished up a poor Wildebeest that had most likely been slain the previous night.
In addition, one of the Hyenas was apparently still hungry and was targeting the new born calves of the nearby Wildebeest. Interestingly enough, the calves were being protected by Zebra where the Zebra would actually run the Hyenas off! Very cool to see in action and you’ll see a photo of it happening below.
The Crater was the only park in Tanzania that we saw the Black Rhino. Unfortunately, we were very far away from them and unable to truly enjoy them. But, we did see them!
Lions have several problems within the crater due to a significant amount of inbreeding. None the less, we did see lions in the crater and were told there are roughly 30 lions in the crater.
There were more and more birds in the crater including Flamingos. We were unable to get very close to the Flamingos, but from afar it looked as if the entire lake was covered with them. There are easily thousands of them.
Wildebeest, these guys are just everywhere. The most interesting part about them in the crater was that many of them had newborn calves with them.
The Zebra were also pretty much spread about in the crater. We saw loads of them here with two interesting situations. The first I mentioned in regards to protecting the baby Wildebeest from the Hyena. The second was their keen interest in the Lions when they were near. I understand they would be interested to see where the Lions were in order to stay their distance. But they seemed to actually creep closer to them. Wouldn’t they spot them and go the opposite direction?
And a few other animals we saw in the crater – Buffalo, Hare, and Warthog. We had a great tour of Ngorongoro Crater and it is a fantastic small park. Although I can’t recommend going to Tanzania just for the crater, I would highly recommend a visit if you are already planning to check out the Serengeti National Park just next door.