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By the Cup

Ngorongoro Crater

"IF ANGELIC photographers had been at work in the Garden of Eden, their wildlife pictures would not have looked much different from those one can take in the Ngorongoro Crater today.” So writes Reinhard Künkel in his book about this fascinating attraction in Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater is indeed a beautiful place, and it is teeming with thousands of wild animals. Come along with us and enjoy the sights!

A Breathtaking View

After traveling four hours by car on dusty roads, we finally arrive at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater. We take in the magnificent view from the balcony of our hotel. The panorama is truly unique. Naturalists have even called it “the eighth wonder of the world,” and we can see why.

Masai woman

Where did the name Ngorongoro come from? No one knows for sure. According to the Conservation Corporation of East Africa, some say that Ngorongoro was the name of a Masai cattle-bell maker who lived in the crater. Others claim that the name came from a valiant group of Datogo warriors who were defeated by the Masai after a battle in the crater 150 years ago. The origin of the name suddenly seems irrelevant, though, when we spot some zebras grazing near the parking area. As we climb into our vehicle, we come very close to them, but they do not seem to notice us. We drive down toward the crater floor to explore more of the wildlife.

The crater stands 7,335 feet above sea level and is the largest unbroken caldera, or collapsed volcano, in the world. It measures 12 miles across and has a surface area of 115 square miles. We slowly descend the 2,000-foot-high crater wall, with our heads sticking out of the car windows so that we can take photographs. When we were on the rim, the morning air was cool and crisp. Inside the crater, however, it is surprisingly hot.

As our driver slowly takes us around the crater floor, we pass the small saline lake with its many pink flamingos. The now-distant crater rim is sharp against the blue sky, and as we listen to the sounds made by zebras and wildebeests mingled with other exotic sounds, we cannot help but be stirred. Indeed, this is a paradise!

Wildlife in the Crater 

 In Ngorongoro Crater we expect to see buffalo, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, gazelles, black rhinoceroses, and vervet monkeys, and we are not disappointed. Predators including cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and black-maned lions are also roaming about. In a small pond, hippos cool themselves. They do not seem to mind posing for a photograph.    

Suddenly our driver stops! He points to a black rhinoceros crossing just a few yards in front of us. The black rhino seems at home in the crater, and it is a rare privilege to see one at such close range in its natural habitat. These fear-inspiring beasts are close to extinction; the population in the crater is estimated to be fewer than 20. Poachers have been caught here killing rhinos for their horns, which are illegally sold for making dagger handles and for medicine. Rangers regularly patrol the crater to keep poachers away.

A lover of birds can expect to see a variety of beautiful winged creatures, including ostriches, kori bustards, crested cranes, egrets, herons, secretary birds, red-billed oxpeckers, and countless pink lesser flamingos. The crater is home to more than a hundred species of birds that are not found in the neighboring Serengeti National Park. There are bearded woodpeckers, yellow-breasted apalis, brubrus, and paradise flycatchers. The rosy-breasted longclaw can be seen in the tall grass, and even the rare Cape rook has been spotted.

Although most animals will take no notice of us, we have to stay in our vehicle. However, the Masai people, who live in traditional mud huts with grass roofs just outside the crater, can roam in the crater with their herds. It seems that the wild animals have accepted them.

The beauty and tranquillity of Ngorongoro Crater is indeed extraordinary and fills us with awe. Our visit is an unforgettable experience.

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