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Serengeti Ngorongoro Crater

27th February 2013

Our Last Day in the Serengeti; A Day of Lions, Leopards and Cheetah

Well Out in the Savannah by Daybreak
Stillness at Dawn
Secretary Bird and his Mate
    My alarm went off at 05:30. We sipped coffee as the sky was faintly tinging the horizon. Before dawn had broken and before breakfast, we were way out in the savannah, searching primarily for leopard and lion. A gleam of pale sunlight flooded across the plain, like slow, sad music. We watched a Secretary Bird atop a tree joined by his mate as the warmth of the sun licked the earth, and kick-started the day. The odours of the bush had started off cool and fresh, but soon the warmth of the sun dried the dew and ripened then into heady aromas of sage and exotic fruit. The scent of dust, dung and lost feathers became, with the heat, a smell of fire.
    We spied a pair of Black Backed Jackals on our journey, followed by herds of giraffes, zebras, hippos, buffalo and herds of elephants, where the old matriarchs led younger animals to the waterholes and feeding grounds; we had now become blasť about these encounters. Then a group of 4x4s parked on a rise gave a clue that something was afoot. We caught up with them, to be presented with the marvellous spectacle of a leopard up a tree, casually keeping an eye on its two cubs. As we watched the big cat, a Northern White Shrike casually watched us from his perch on a tall reed.
Leopard Watching Her Cubs
    We struck off again, to come across yet another group of 4x4s. Here, another leopard was leisurely strolling with her two seven month old cubs alongside a watercourse. She rested, sitting by a shallow pool while her two young ones casually played and drank by the water. The parent seemed oblivious to the fact that a hoard of humans was in very close proximity to her brood, but we all knew her casual stance belied the lethal attack she would launch if her cubs were threatened. We had splendid views of this glamorous beast, her graceful female curves and measured strides giving no indication to her ferocious abilities. When her cubs grew tired of playing and caught up with her, she slowly padded off, almost hidden, through the tall grass, with her cubs scampering behind.
Northern White Shrike
    Our journey continued, crossing paths with an Egyptian Goose with chicks on the way.
Leopard and Cub

    And then we happened upon a pride of twelve lions; lionesses and cubs to be precise. They were slowly gliding through the grass, the lionesses striding purposefully, occasionally stopping to cast wary eyes over their surroundings, while the five-month old cubs playfully tumbled along behind. They padded onto the track where we were parked, and then to our surprise, casually walked along the said track, passing by and weaving through the convoy of 4x4s, now gathered to see the spectacle. The fierce heat was obviously getting to some of them, they sought refuge in the shade of one of the vehicles. As the cats walked by, I overheard one lioness say to a cub, "Always roar twice before you eat a human." The young cub looked perplexed and asked, "Why don't we just eat them?" Mam replied, "Well they taste better when they have had the shit scared out of them first." Pretty soon, lions and vehicles were slowly moving in procession along the track. A minor scare occurred when one of the inquisitive cubs got underneath a moving vehicle, causing its occupants to scream in horror. I don't know whether it was the screams or the potential danger, but the animal soon shot out and caught up with its siblings. The caravan carried on this way for about eight minutes before the animals left the track and continued their journey across grassland.
Lioness Keeping a Watchful Eye
Egyptian Goose with Chicks
    In a short space of time we discovered the purpose of their mission. A freshly killed buffalo lay on its side in a dip. The lionesses had killed the creature during the night or early dawn, and were now bringing their offspring along for breakfast. It tends to be lionesses that do all the killing, while lions just roar a lot, fight amongst themselves, and eat what the females or hyenas have caught.
    Now we had seen what we had hoped to see today, leopards and lions, and magnificent sights they were too. It was now time to return to camp for brunch, pack up our tents and gear, and head back down through the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater. It would take 3.5 hours at least just to get to the boundary with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
    We passed giraffes, warthogs, hippos, herds of migrating zebra and wildebeest, elephants and more. An hour into our journey, in the southern short grass lands, we pulled up behind two 4x4s which were parked alongside a small bush. There in its shade was a cheetah. It was midday, and there was no other shade around here for miles. Here she patiently rested through the heat of the day, silently panting, and her eyes constantly scanned all around.

Pride of Lions on the Move
Well Hidden Cheetah
Maasai Herdsman
    Leaving her behind, half an hour later we came across another cheetah lying down in the grass, devouring a wildebeest calf. The calf's parent was highly distressed, as to be expected, running 20m, then stopping and turning to look at the cheetah, then running and stopping again, time after time. Such are the laws of nature.
    We sped back into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and closed in on the distant mountains. A light distant shower of rain painted a blue slanting streak across the horizon. As we approached over a flat plain, full of Maasai cattle and goats, twisters slowly crossed the land. We passed a Maasai herdsman, his skin burnt black by the sun. He possessed a noble countenance, a proud and handsome profile, and a sad, deep wisdom in his eyes, like the saints painted on church ceilings. We often jar with the landscape, whereas this tall, slim, dark-eyed man was in accordance with it. Climbing the foothills, much evidence of recent rain was apparent, and the foliage grew much lusher. Soon, we caught up with the rains at a higher altitude. Water was streaming across the land, and the track was awash. Occasionally a front wheel would drop into one of the many potholes, and the windscreen would instantly be covered in a thick red mud. The temperature had noticeably dropped too.
Dan and Sally at Ngorongoro Campsite
    We found ourselves skirting around the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, and then into one of the many campsites situated on the rim. Fortunately it was not raining when we pulled in, and we wasted no time in erecting our tents and sorting our kit out. We wisely made use of the showers before the site filled up. There was a perimeter track around the campsite, which Maasai folk patrolled. If anybody tried to cross it into Maasai land, they would be summoned back by these guards.
    The rain held off, and the site gradually filled up. We settled down in style, facing our chairs so as to take in the magnificent view across the crater, each with a coffee and a shared tray of popcorn. Across the rim were lodges, pretty comfortable from what I gather, but so they should be at $1000 per night. The sun hid behind some clouds and the temperature dropped rapidly. The pearly twilight which precedes night on the equator was translucent.
    By the time we started our evening meal, the sun was well down, and everyone wore sweaters. We downed a beer each, shared a bottle of South African Shiraz, and finished off the Konyagi between the four of us.
    Although there had been a threat of rain, the Gods spared us. The limpid sky of the equator was studded with millions of bright stars. We marvelled at them and the moonlit terrain before settling down for the chilly night.
Ngorongoro Rim Campsite

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Serengeti Ngorongoro Crater
Last updated 19.4.2013