Friday, June 4

Steve: This was originally planned as a free day to relax at Gibbs Farm. However, we all decided that we would love spending another day inside Ngorongoro Crater, and were thrilled that Nassibu was willing to change plans and make arrangements to take us for another wonderful session of wildlife viewing. We have quickly learned that every time we venture out with Nassibu to see the animals, we always seem to see something different. In the case of the Ngorongoro Crater, it wasn't that we were looking to see new animals (since we think we have seen most all of the species that live there), but instead to view them in new and interesting situations. So we set off with anticipation early this morning and began the 1 ½ hour drive down to the crater floor.

We took the road down the northern edge of the crater, just above the path that the animals use to enter and leave. Again, we found it amazing to watch the small black dots grow larger as we descended, until we could begin to recognize individual animals on the crater floor. After reaching the bottom, it didn't take long for us to find something we hadn't seen before - lions eating their kill. A male and female were tearing into the carcass of a wildebeest just off the side of the road. It looked like the animal had just recently been killed, probably within the past hour. Nassibu had pointed out a ditch that the lions often use for hiding and hunting animals that come to the nearby river to drink, and from the location of the dead animal it seemed likely that this was how it met its fate earlier this morning.

We watched as the lions happily filled their stomachs, with another female sitting nearby and waiting her turn. The lions seemed very satisfied with the results of their hunt, peaking up several times with proud looks on their faces.

Next we stopped to watch two young elephant bulls that were strolling and grazing together. Nassibu explained that sometimes the younger bulls come into the crater to explore, but usually leave soon after realizing that there are no females here. From a distance Nassibu told us that one of the elephants had "three rear legs." Once we got closer, it was pretty obvious to see what he meant, and we all had a good laugh. It's been great to see the elephants at close range here in the crater, and we know that we'll probably see many more when we get to Tarangire next week.










We encountered a pair of young and very curious hyenas that first approached our Land Rover and then seemed to disappear under the vehicle. Nassibu said he had never seen that happen, since the hyenas are normally very shy. At one point, he was worried that they'd try to take a bite out of our tires with their powerful jaws. Soon they emerged and ran off. When Nassibu later checked under the car, he could actually see the marks from where they had scratched and sniffed around.

Just before lunch we spotted our first rhino of the day. As is normally the case with rhinos, he was fairly far from the road. The rhinos have a keen sense of hearing, and generally stay far away from the vehicles in the crater. Soon after we saw the rhino, it went down for a rest into a position where it looked like a large grey rock. After lunch we saw another rhino that was at least a little closer to the road (close enough to at least allow a zoomed-in picture), followed late this afternoon by three others including a baby with its mother. This means that in total we saw five rhinos today, almost a third of the crater's entire population of 16 - not bad!

After watching the rhino we went back to see what was happening with the wildebeest that the lions were feasting on this morning. We thought that perhaps we'd see the hyenas or vultures taking their turn, but instead found a single female lion struggling to tear the last bits of meat from the carcass. We watched as she gnawed the bones and worked to strip everything possible from the skin. She was working hard, tugging and pulling with her teeth and using her large paws to hold the body down. She frequently got up to maneuver the remains into different positions until finally it looked like it was taking her more effort than it was worth to find any meat. At that point she simply got up, walked a short distance, and plopped down in the grass to rest. Unfortunately for the 20+ vultures that had been circling, the lion was still too close for them to land safely and so they left to find food elsewhere.


















We also returned to a spot where we had seen a group of five lions resting earlier today, and found them again near the river. They all looked exhausted, particularly a large lazy male that hardly moved while we watched. We were thrilled to find two of the females sprawled out right next to the road, and we enjoyed seeing them for such a long time at very close range. The lions are such beautiful animals, and it's been great to see so many here in the Ngorongoro Crater.

























We began ascending out of the crater late this afternoon. It seems like every time that we think we've completed our wildlife viewing for the day, something else happens. As we entered the forest just above the base of the crater, we encountered a large troop of baboons along the road. Although we've already seen many baboons (primarily in the Serengeti), until now they had all been very shy and have normally run quickly away from our approaching Land Rover. These particular baboons acted like we weren't even there, and we had a wonderful time watching them grooming, playing and caring for their young. The best part was watching a tiny baby interact with its father, constantly trying to jump up on the rock that he was sitting on. The baby looked almost like a toy doll, with its bright pink belly and skinny arms and legs. We were able to take some nice photographs to capture the scene.

















Finally, we were on our way and we stopped at the rim of the crater for one last look. This is truly a remarkable place, unlike anything else in the world. It was wonderful to spend an unexpected day here, and we are very thankful to Nassibu for making it possible.

Tomorrow we are headed south to the Kidero area, in search of the Hadza tribe. The Hadzas are one of the world's only remaining groups of hunter-gatherers, and we have planned to spend the next two days visiting and interacting with them near their homes. It should be quite an adventure.

Animals seen today:

Lion (8)
Rhinoceros (4)

New birds seen today:

Spoon Billed Stork
Gray Heron
Black Headed Heron












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