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Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area
lies the renowned Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro was a
huge volcano that collapsed inward millions of years ago, leaving a 18 km wide
volcanic crater (caldera). It is the largest intact unflooded caldera on earth. Our lodge was amongst the
clouds high on the crater rim at around 2300 metres elevation.
As we drove down the winding track through the lush rim forest to the crater
floor 600 metres below, we joined this troop of olive savanna baboons.
Baboon troops are complex societies that travel
about 6 km per day together in search of food. Baboons eat an enormous variety of plants
supplemented with shellfish, insects and even small mammals like hares
and infant antelope.
A lodge manager told us that baboons keep stealing his telephone satellite dish. He did not know what the baboons did with all the equipment.
Perhaps they are establishing BaboonTel.com.
Baboon troop coming through
think baboons, Africa's most widespread primate and the largest of the monkeys, could serve as a ready excuse if I
lived in Tanzania: "Sorry I'm late, there was a lot of baboon traffic."
Baboons have even
roads to protest senseless killing.
Grooming - removing parasites and dead skin from another baboon - is an important social
activity which relaxes and unites members of the troop. Savanna baboons form
male-female friendships, a behaviour seldom observed in animals. Baboons join
to protect infants; few predators dare test a troop's defences. This cooperative
defence lets troops wander with impunity and use their opposable thumbs to thumb
their snouts at the lions.
The crater floor
is a self-contained world apart, likened to Noah’s Ark in its preservation of
animal diversity in a relatively small area. Here roams the densest permanent concentration of wildlife on
earth (including 25,000 large mammals), enjoying year round water and
abundant food. Lake Magadi, alkaline due to its bed of soda (sodium carbonate), occupies
the lowest part of the crater floor.
Flocks and herds
The lake supports thousands of flamingos and
Here are greater and lesser flamingo mingling, along with some other birds. The
greater flamingo is larger and has a pink bill with a black tip. A filter
feeder, it preys on invertebrates which it sifts from the bottom mud using its
they are all flamingos
Lesser flamingos, recognizable by their darker bills, primarily eat spirulina, a blue-green algae found in the shallows of
Flamingos live and travel in large groups.
In this picture they are flamingoing away.
Ancient and massive,
the Rhinoceros is considered Africa's most endangered species.
The high commercial
value of their horns has led to intense poaching. The black rhinoceros has declined from a continental population of more than 100,000
in the 1960s to 2,500 today. Less than 50 survive in Tanzania. This is one of
seventeen black rhinos living in the crater.
One of the last black rhinos
Seventeen, which includes two fertile females
repatriated from South Africa in 1997, may not sound like many but it is only due to intensive conservation and
anti-poaching efforts that any remain. The sheer crater walls act as a natural
barrier and help give them, one of the last viable free-ranging black rhino populations,
a fighting chance. Other Tanzanian rhinos live behind protective
fences even more formidable than the Quebec
City "Wall of Shame".
Peering down from the rim, we could discern dots moving in the distance of the crater
floor. Inside the crater, we met up with these bull elephants.
Elephant families stay in the highland forests surrounding the crater and do not
venture into the crater. Males leave cow herds at 12 years or later, depending on when they reach
puberty. Once on
their own, bulls alternately wander solo and associate with other bulls.
Male elephants experience a highly sexual state called musth,
indicated by dribbling from a swollen, partially extended penis. (Elephant penises curve forward and
up when fully erect.) I don't know if this is the case with
this old bull and his "fifth leg." Maybe he's just daydreaming or happy to
It must be musth
Ngorongoro is not a National Park -- certain human settlements and activity
When the British established the Serengeti National Park in the
fifties, they evicted the Maasai
tribespeople who had moved into the non-tsetse infected grasslands 150 years earlier. As compensation,
they were offered refuge in
nearby Ngorongoro, already occupied by fellow Maasai. No other Maasai were allowed to
move in and no increase in their livestock was permitted. Unlike many of Africa's
conservation areas, the Ngorongoro Authority
manages a complex mix of wildlife, vegetation, water, Maasai
pastoralists and their stock, not to mention all them pesky tourists.
Although a small percentage of the population, the Maasai
(promoted as "photogenic" in tourism brochures) are the
ethnic group best known to visitors to Tanzania and Kenya. Most Maasai maintain a traditional tribal
lifestyle and live off their livestock:
primarily milk but also meat and blood.
Some Maasai generate income from tourism including
charging photographers, offering tours and accommodation in their villages, and
trading. I did not take any pictures of Maasai, but don't worry, there's
After the crater, we explored the Olduvai Gorge
excavation site, known as the
"cradle of humanity". Many important fossils have been unearthed here, beginning with a two million
year old human skull found in 1959 by Mary Leakey. We didn't find anything good,
Wondering where the lions are?