The Ngorongoro Crater is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is 3,202 square miles. Sitting on the deck of our lodge’s observatory looking down into the crater and across, it was difficult to see the other side in the distance. Two million years ago this massive volcano erupted spreading ash over what is now the Serengeti plains. The caldera would fit at least two Oaklands.
We zig zaged down the the caldera wall – four of us in a safari jeep. Once we hit the bottom, the terrain changed from woodland to plains, plains to lakeside, lakeside to riverside, and then back to plains. There were warthogs, cheetahs, zebras, and cape buffalo. Along the lake, flamingos and spoon bills stayed clear of the jackal laden shoreline.
We enjoyed watching the hippos. The bulls would run out of the water to chase rivals away. We also saw a young hippo rolling in circles in the water.
On the north side of the crater was a favorite hangout for a pride of Lions. The black maned male was noisy and stayed mostly in the brush canoodling with the lionesses. We got out of the jeep to watch from a distance while we ate our lunches. Then without warning, birds swooped down and started taking food right out of the hands of people watching the lions. The birds were aggressive, fearless, and forced those people still eating back into their jeeps.
Another one of the highlights for us in the crater was spotting a black rhino. Black rhinos are solitary and shy, and the distance kept us from getting a decent shot. These rhinos are critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. With 90% decline in the last three generations there are only 740 known to be left in the world. Poaching is the major culprit. The fervent desire for rhino horns is misplaced. A piece on KQED that summarized the science analyzing the composition of horns found that people would be better served biting their nails than ingesting the horns. Yet the exotic frequently overwhelms reason, and the ignorant are easily swayed with snake oils and salves, especially when the real solution is much tougher to solve. The family of someone suffering from ‘demonic possession’ (a condition cured by rhino horns as claimed by the famed Chinese Pharmacist Li Shi Chen) are more than willing to kill a rhino for chance to saved their loved one. Therein lies the problem, we are fundamentally wired with zeal and possess the means to sacrifice all else for the sake of our own. These dual attributes put humans in a unique position to destroy all there is. Engendering a sense of responsibility and stewardship will be some of the greatest challenges we face as a species.
We spent a full day in the crater and saw some of the most amazing animals on the planet.
When we got back to the lodge, we climbed back into our overland truck and headed out to Arusha.