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Hazle Journal East Africa: Saturday 10/15 – The Ngorongoro Crater

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Jan 11th, 2006, 09:09 AM
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Hazle Journal East Africa: Saturday 10/15 – The Ngorongoro Crater

The following is an excerpt from The Hazle Journal East Africa. A 90% version is currently located on my website. Soon there will be pictures too at www.waynehazle.com/eastafrica/


Hazle Journal East Africa: Saturday 10/15 – The Ngorongoro Crater


Ali asked us to wake up extra early because the best time to see animal activity in the Crater was early when it was colder. But to tell you the truth Mary Ellen and my Father felt pretty whipped at this point. They were both seriously considering skipping the Crater and just sleeping in. But somehow, we all answered our 5:15 AM wakeup call and by 6:30 we were driving down into the crater.

The road was rough (of course) and winding. An unskilled driver would take his vehicle right off the edge. But Ali was pretty sure behind the wheel. The view as we drove down into the crater was magnificent. A lot of the places that looked like desert from far away, were clearer as we went further down. This was anything but an abandoned desert! Almost as soon as we hit the bottom we saw gazelles, baboons, ostriches, buffalo and several hyenas pacing around.

We drove further and saw various types of monkeys, elephants and hippos. The landscape was very different, even the air itself had a different feel… of course that was probably the early morning cold. We passed a huge herd of buffalo munching away on grass. We made our way down a fairly straight road and then we saw them… a pride of lions old and young. Several females led the way. The chief male was missing. We stopped the jeep and watched them walk by us slowly, casually. They seemed to be hurrying to go nowhere at all. We watched them continue past us. We realized we needed to follow them and see what they were up to. They were headed to an area right across from where the buffalo were grazing. Were we about to see what I thought?

The Battle Royale
We whirled our jeep around and headed back. By this time there were about 10 other vehicles gather at the crossroads. All the lions were crouching and were setting up some sort’ve formation. Excitement was popping in the air. The hunt was on!
The lions were crouching in the grass, probably less than 100 meters was between them and their quarry. It was fascinating to watch their formation. The cubs stayed way, way in the back and out of the action. The few experienced lionesses made their way to the front. In between were far too many adolescent lions, male and female. Some seemed ready to be part of the hunt, other stayed back with the cubs. And a few mingled around not sure what exactly to do.

I also noticed on the far left and right flanks were other lions, crouching in the grass.

Inch by inch the true hunters made their way closer. I was worried that all our cars in the road would interfere with the lions. They didn’t seem the least bit bothered. The lions went between our cars, never taking their eye off their prey. Some lions even used our vehicles for cover. They moved forward a few feet and then lay in the foot high grass.

But no one was being fooled here. The buffalo knew the lions were there. They stared over at the hunters as if to say “You realize we can see you don’t you?” Meanwhile it seemed that all the animals in the forest were lining up for the show. Birds flew overhead. Monkeys scampered up to the tops of trees and were screeching, letting the whole crater know what was about to happen. The buffalo were more than ready. They gathered together tightly. Young ones stayed in the middle. Older, large defenders with massive horns stayed up front. If the lions wanted to get one of them, they were going to have to work for it.

When two masters play chess, it is a subtle psychological game. Each move represents dozens of different combinations. The players think dozens of moves ahead. When an attack comes it is sudden, yet well thought out and often fatal. We were witnessing this match between grandmaster hunters and grandmaster defenders. The lead lioness slowly took her team forward, her eyes honing in on the one buffalo she thought was weak enough to bring down. The lead buffalo, kept the circle tight “Hold the line boys!”
In order for this to work out (for the lions), the main hunters would need to draw closer while the flankers would come around behind, and create pandemonium in the buffalo ranks, causing the herd to break apart. Then they would all close on a baby or an old buffalo that got separated from the herd. All the buffalo had to do was hold together. Their horns are huge and sharp. An adult buffalo could gore a lion to death without a second thought. A group of adults working together was an impenetrable wall.

I don’t know who blinked first, but at some point I saw buffalo running and lions going after them. But it was all haphazard. The flankers never came in. Were they flanking or just hiding from the action? The few brave hunters that dared to come close were met with thousands of pounds of buffalo muscle with horns on top. Within seconds the hunter became the hunted. The buffalo were driving the lions away! Pandemonium broke out among the lions as they scattered everywhere, hauling you-know-what to get out of there.

Sorry boys, no buffalo meat on the menu today!

As the lions fled, the buffalo began making a loud bellowing sound. It was thrilling and horrifying. Chills went up and down my spine. They were letting the lions know in no uncertain terms: DO NOT COME BACK! Try telling those buffalo that lions are the king of the jungle. On that morning, the Ngorongoro Crater had new rulers. This certainly was better than gravy, this was the filet mignon, lobster and champagne I had been hoping for.

For a little while, we thought that the lions would regroup and try for one of the antelopes lingering around. But I think they were just way too frazzled to do anymore hunting for the day.

We drove a bit more and Ali saw something in the high brush. We looked and there was a cheetah peeking up its beautiful head. We parked and waited. Eventually the cheetah passed right by in front of the car and crossed the road. Several hundred yards away were some impala grazing. Each time the cheetah inched forward two or three feet, but the impala always kept their distance. Soon enough the cheetah realized it was over, and so did we.

We ate lunch at an area by a lake with hippos swimming in it. They stayed at the center of the lake and we stayed far from them.

In the afternoon we saw two dark brown male lions with a female. The valley in front of them was empty. We also saw wildebeest, jackals, hyenas and more. By the end of the day our hearts and souls were filled. We made our way back up the steep jagged road leading out of the Crater. We were so revved up we didn’t feel the bumps… almost.


waynehazle is offline  
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Jan 12th, 2006, 10:06 AM
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I enjoyed reading your description of the crater. Thanks wayne.
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Jan 12th, 2006, 10:28 AM
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Thanks, Wayne. I don't know how I missed this as I am a compulsive trip-report reader.

By the way, I think that drive on the Crater ascent road was the scariest thing I encountered in East Africa.
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Jan 12th, 2006, 11:43 AM
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I read all the report on your site when you gave us the link previously - have you added any new text since then? If not I'll just go to the pics, but if you've added new text, let me know, I don't want to miss any! THANKS
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Jan 12th, 2006, 12:00 PM
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no new text. Just a little error checking
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