Sunday, March 05, 2023

More African Adventures, Part 7 - Africa's Garden of Eden - Ngorongoro Crater

January 13 and 14, 2019

Ngorongoro Crater - Africa's Garden of Eden

Enclosed within the one hundred square miles of the crater floor and protected by 2,000-foot-high steep jungle-covered mountains of this ancient volcano, lies an enchanted landscape, Ngorongoro Crater – an entire ecosystem cut off from the rest of the continent, but thriving all on its own.

The entry gate into Ngorongoro Conservation Area included an interesting little museum 
about the geography, animals, and people of the region.

Looking down into the caldera

I had had some doubts about including Ngorongoro on our itinerary as we had already come here about 4 years ago, but I ended up SO glad we went ahead with the plan. We had visited in July the last time, and the landscape was barren and brown. At that time, the Masai were still allowed to share the crater for grazing their cattle, who ate side by side with the wildebeests, but that has now been banned. This time, we arrived at the end of one of the two rainy seasons in Tanzania, and the flat plains on the crater floor were covered with thick green grasses. The lakes and marsh areas were flowing with water.  Best of all, there were animals everywhere we looked. Huge herds of wildebeests, zebras, and Cape buffalo, smaller groups of Thompson gazelles, Grants gazelles, elands, hartebeests, and even a couple of rhinos were all peacefully grazing on the grasses. Elephants walked majestically across the plains and fed on the tall plants in the marshes. These thriving populations are kept in balance by the several prides of lions, the jackals, and the hyenas sharing the crater with them, and on our second morning, we saw them at their work.

Day 1 in the Crater:

Albert, our guide, led us on two descents into the crater.  The first day, we arrived late in the morning when the animals were quietly grazing or just resting on the grass. Albert helped us identify the birds and animals, and we spent several happy hours driving around the park, ending with a picnic lunch by the shores of a lake.

One of the two entry gates into Ngorongoro Crater

Looking down on the herds of antelope and Cape Buffalo

Cape Buffalo
Shaggy Cape Buffalo 

Wildebeest roamed all throughout the crater


Wildebeests are such odd looking creatures.

Thompson's Gazelles with Superb Starlings (a very common bird in this area)

Juvenile Thompson's Gazelle

Thompson's Gazelles

Zebras and Wildebeests often grazed together.


Baby Zebras have brown stripes


I was so excited to spot these two rhinos far in the distance, It is a rare sighting!

A blurry telephoto lens shot of the rhinos - but good enough to see the ox peckers on its back.

I watched with fascination an encounter between this spotted hyena and the golden jackal below - both approaching a stream at the same time.  

Keeping a close watch on the hyena

They decided it was best to drink in peace.

The huge herds of wildebeests, Cape buffalo, and antelopes grazed peacefull, but I suspect they were always keeping a watchful eye out.  Hiding in the tall grasses were several small prides of lions.

Lion's paw and tail peeking out from the grass.

Female lion

Lions lounging

No grazing animals in this meadow!

As always, I loved seeing the fabulous birds of Africa, and the crater was full of them!

Little Bee Easter

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

Augur Buzzard

African Hoopoe

Superb Starlings

Abdim's Stork

Marsh Sandpipr

Black Winged Stilt

Red Billed Teal Ducks


African Ibis

Egyptian Goose with Ibis


In the late afternoon, we headed through the Ngorongoro forest and drove up the mountain, stopping for some magnificent views of the entire caldera.  

Happy Travelers

Rob with our guide, Albert

A memorial to the brave park rangers killed by poachers and bandits

Back at Gibbs Farm, we lounged on the deck with our afternoon tea.  Several bold little Baglafecht Weavers joined us at our table.  Naturally, Rob was happy to provide them with some crumbs.  The staff told us about a civet that lived on the grounds, and we managed to spot him hiding in a bush.

On the deck at Gibbs Farm

Baglafecht Weaver

Civet Cat hiding in the brush

Fabulous Day 2 in the Crater:

Our first day was lovely, but the second day was like living in a National Geographic documentary!  We woke up at 5 a.m. and met Albert at the car under pitch black skies. He drove us along the still empty highway to the western gates of the park, where we were the very first vehicle to arrive, then continued along the ridge that surrounds the deep crater. The sun slowly illuminated the morning sky, and by the time we reached the road that descends into the crater, it was light. The views of the acacia covered slopes and the plains below were stunning. The day was filled with many special animal encounters, with the first coming almost immediately – a herd of elands, the largest of the antelopes, and not as commonly seen as some of the others. 

Acacia trees on the slopes leading to the crater

Second entry gate into Ngorongoro Crater.

Cape Buffalo


Elands, the largest of the African antelopes

Elands grazing

Grant's Gazelle

As we watched them, Albert scanned the valley floor and suddenly got extremely excited.  “There are lions and there’s been a kill!”   We held on tight as our Land Cruiser tore down the hill.

A pride of lions was lying right in the road, their round bellies displaying the good wildebeest meal they had just enjoyed. One lion was proudly carrying the poor wildebeest’s head, while a large pack of jackals squabbled and picked at the rib cage of the creature, nibbling off every last scrap of meat they could get.

A pride of lions after their early morning feast

Full tummies 

This lion carried the head of the wildebeest the entire time we watched.

The gruesome side of nature

Black-backed Jackals strip the meat from the bones of the wildebeest

Across the road, a few hyenas waited patiently, ready to move in to crunch the bones once the lions had moved on. It was sad to contemplate the painful death of the wildebeest, but without the predators, the prey animals would quickly overpopulate this enclosed area. 

The hyena waits for the jackals to finish so he can eat the bones.  One of Mother Nature's waste disposers.

A mama spotted hyena

We continued our drive across the grassy plains.  In spite of the carnage behind us, the other animals were grazing peacefully together.


The grazers coexist peacefully

Family of hartebeests

There was more lion excitement when we spotted a gorgeous black-maned king of the jungle ensuring his lineage.  He quickly finished his work and walked away under the watchful eye of the animals grazing nearby.  

Ensuring the survival of the species

The other animals keep a close eye on the lions

He's earned a rest

We encountered several elephant families roaming the plains, as well as a few of the "so ugly that they are cute" warthogs.

I love the way warthog's tails go straight in the air when they run.

We finally moved on to our picnic breakfast at the Ngoitokitok Picnic Area on the shore of one of the lakes in the crater. A large group of hippos was lounging in the middle of the lake. Albert explained that they often get out of the water at night to graze and had just recently returned to the water. We could see the still wet path they had trampled through the mud. They were a noisy group, spouting water like little whales, and occasionally bellowing at each other. 

Hippo Pool

Reminds me of the Disneyland Jungle Boat Ride

The second most dangerous animal in Africa.  (Mosquitoes are first.)

My usual pose when we travel - taking photos!

We were joined at our picnic by several beautiful little birds, bright yellow Speke's weavers, speckled rufous-tailed weavers, and the iridescent blue superb starlings, who flew down the minute we arrived and hopped fearlessly around our feet in anticipation of any dropped food crumbs.  An African Ibis looked for its own food in the tall grasses by the lake, while we enjoyed our own feast.

Speke's Weaver

Rufous-tailed Weaver

African Ibis 

African Ibis looking for a meal in the tall grasses by the lake

Albert and Joan

Albert preparing our breakfast picnic

The wonders of the day were not over, although one of them revealed the hard side of nature.. Albert was surprised to see two brand new, just born baby wildebeests. They were SO new that the placentas could still be seen hanging from the mothers’ behinds, yet they were already running alongside their mothers. Usually, the babies are all born about the same time, at the very end of January or the first couple of weeks of February, so these two were a couple of weeks early. This was bad news for these two little ones, as they were missing the safety of numbers and were easy prey for the hyenas and lions.

Baby One was already walking when we spotted it.  But Baby Two was still lying in the grass.  We watched in wonder as it took its first steps.  Knowing that it was in danger was heart-breaking.

Baby #1 was already running by the time we spotted it.

Baby #2 was just born.

We watched it take its first steps

We saw more evidence of the harshness of nature when we spotted two zebras with huge gashes on their bodies. One of them had long slashes from claw marks on its hind quarters and had obviously narrowly escaped a lion. The other had a big gash on its front shoulder, and Albert said it was likely the result of a kick from a rival zebra.

Injured zebra

This elephant is displaying a bit of his wild side, too.

Our second day gifted us with many more bird sightings.

The White Stork is one of the many migratory birds that visits Ngorongoro Crater.

Kori Bustards 

Kori Bustard


Helmeted Guinea Fowl

The Grey Crowned Crane is one of my favorite African birds.

Grey Crowned Crane in flight

Cattle egrets

Grey Heron

We were reluctant to leave this wonderful place, but we had one more treat on the way out...a little family of vervet monkeys in the small forest near the exit road. 

The road through the forest to the exit

Sausage Tree

Vervet Monkey

Baby Vervet Monkey

Baby and Mom

What a face!

We enjoyed our ride back past the villages between Ngorongoro and Gibbs Farm.

 We had one final treat waiting back at Gibbs Farm. As we ate our lunch on an outdoor veranda, a tropical storm suddenly swept over us, and we spent the rest of this afternoon listening to pouring rain and thunder. The rain eased up in the evening, and the many birds in the Gibbs Farm gardens twittered happily. These were a fabulous couple of days!

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