The next part of the adventure began on our travels to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. A vast array of habitats in one area, with lush and forest covered crater rim with a savannah and grassland area on the crater floor much like Serengeti system it’s a part of. After setting up camp in a much busier campsite with far better facilities than anticipated, we decided to drive down to the crater for a brief visit before dark. The immediate view of the vast open land, surrounded by lush green slopes was spectacular. We immediately saw hundreds of gazelles, both Thomson and Grants, and just before heading back to the rim to return to camp we passed 3 female lions lying on the side of the road. I was so excited it was hard to accept these were wild and dangerous animals, when all you wanted to do was leap out of the truck and cuddle them! And that wasn’t it. Having been warned of their severe rarity in the area and their illusive nature we were unfathomably lucky to see 2 critically endangered Black Rhinos walking across the plains. I honestly didn’t think anything could get better than this; 4 days in and Africa had already surpassed all my dreams and expectations!
We spent the next two days also exploring crater, practicing distance sampling of species group sizes, which was quite a challenge with hundred and thousands of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle around us. At lunch time we stopped in areas where black kisses would swoop trying to steal the food from your hands, and hippo staring at you from the waters edge. It hard to comprehend the fact there are no barriers in the wild, even our UniMog was very exposed, I found that out the hard way when driving past another pride of lions, we disturbed a female and she reared up on her hind legs preparing to pounce at the truck where I was directly sitting. I literally froze and screamed for them to keep driving; I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling and definitely did my fair share of hyperventilating afterwards. Around this time we were also able to see a male and female lion in the process of mating, which we later found out happens every 15 minutes for 3 days – pretty intense! Unfortunately it was also apparent that we as observers were influencing their behaviour and making mating difficult as the female searched for shade behind the many trucks that had accumulated in the area. This was even more apparent when we were ridiculously lucky to find a leopard post kill with a gazelle carcass in the tree. Here there were 30 trucks lined up against the area for the “show”, but whether or not this really effects the animals we will never know, but as much as I didn’t like it, I didn’t want to leave any more than anyone else did. However we did notice many tourists liked to take pictures of us in our enormous vehicle rather than watch the leopard…very strange indeed.
I think this would have to be my favourite park so far with such a crazy amount of luck in that we essentially were ticking off one by one a huge array of species some people never end up seeing on safari. In the evenings it was so cold on the top fo the crater of the dormant volcano, that thermals were essential. But this also meant to my delight we were able to light our first big campfire, which proved perfect in warming us up. While some of us remained up at night to compltet our field guide notes from the dayd exploration, we were lucky enough to have bush pigs come right to us searching for food scraps, they were huge! Shining our torches around us, we caught the sight off a group of zebra amongst the tents – truly amazing. But what was even more incredible was one evening before the sun set, a herd of elephant passed with in 10m of our pitches making their way down the edge of the crater. We had to be careful not to spook them as a stampede could have been disastrous, but we all too mesmerised to even move, let alone make any sudden sounds or movements.