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Seven Days in the Serengeti. Day Four: Life in an ancient crater.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a large, protected area of Tanzania. It includes Ngorongoro Crater, the caldera of an ancient volcano some 2 million years old. The crater is now a prolific plain that is home to many varieties of African wildlife.

It was scorching hot yesterday afternoon as we entered the Conservation Area and stopped for the necessary permits. Baboons were roaming alongside the road and we hurried out to get some pictures. . "Close the windows," warned our driver, ”the baboons will try to get into the vehicle."

Taking advantage of our preoccupation, a female baboon with a baby clinging to its back made a beeline straight to our jeep. Quick as a wink, she scurried up the side and leapt in. Apparently, in our haste, we had neglected to roll up one window. She quickly scooped up a box of cookies and a bag of chips before jumping back out the window, screeching, and leaping up the nearest tree. Holding on to her precious goodies, baring her teeth and screeching, she fended off another approaching baboon. She was not letting go and she was not sharing.

Like a siren, dozens of baboons came pouring in from all directions, scampering about the parking lot, alert for other vehicles who may have left windows open. One baboon acted as sentry, perched high in the branches of a tree, watching the vehicles. If he spied an opening, he would alert his accomplices who would rush the vehicle.

It was like Planet of the Apes and a little scary!

It is early the next morning when we descend into the crater for our Game Drive. We are told Ngorongoro is home to many species of animals and look forward to seeing hippos, lions, giraffes, and maybe even a cheetah or leopard.

Entering the crater, we stop at a lookout point. The crater is 20 kilometres in diameter, a vast expanse with the circular perimeter visible. The bottom of the crater is very distant, nothing but a dry and dusty bowl, its dry, golden grasses reflecting the afternoon sunlight.

We begin our long descent into the crater, excited and eagerly scanning the landscape for animals.

There are massive Cape Buffalo grazing alongside herds of zebras. Packs of hyenas roam in the long, dry grass. Here and there we spot an ostrich, the males handsome in the black and white, a contrast to the subtle grays of the female.

It is evident these animals live together in harmony. Animals are one of two types, we are told. There are predators and there are prey. Among the prey there is no internal competition. They can live together and co-exist. However, that is not the same for predators. They do compete for the same food source and there is definitely a hierarchy. The lion is the largest and most dominant. They will kill other predators like leopards and cheetahs because that will reduce the competition for food.

We head toward a watering hole and stumble upon a family of lions lazing in the shade beside the road. Off to our left we spot two large males, unmoving and almost obscured in the grass. Two young animals sleep, sprawled out in the rutted dirt beside the road, and several females lie in the grass to the right. They are awake and watchful, almost bored, as if they are waiting for the males to wake up. They are ambivalent to our presence. We are not a threat, merely a large shape they can use for shade.

Watching the lions, I have to remind myself that this lazy, yawning animal is the top of the food chain, the king of beasts.

As it nears noon, we head to a beautiful, green pond area and spread our blankets out for a picnic lunch. A group of hippos lazily doze in the water under a giant acacia tree. It is serene. We finish our lunch move nearer to the pool, trying to get close enough for some decent shots. We notice a couple of hippos moving off behind the reeds. A few minutes later they emerge from the water, lumbering out and walking along a path near the water. Snap, snap, snap! It is exciting to capture the hippo like this, I even managed a shot as it yawned, its mouth wide open.

A perfect spot for a picnic.

Back on our Game Drive, we pass a herd of wildebeest on the move. Perhaps it is the start of their annual migration out of the crater. The large herd makes it way, grazing as they go.

A herd of zebra slowly make its way across the plain, their black and white stripes a contrast to the golden glow of the grasses.

Finally, we arrive at the main Hippo Pool. It is a sight to behold. Dozens of hippos, some with babies, laze, submerged up to their eyeballs. Every now and then one will move, trying to shake off the birds that perch on them. They look like giant logs in the water. Alongside, Cape Buffalo graze in the reeds, birds perched on their massive curved horns.

Surrounding the pool, zebras and wildebeest graze in harmony as far as the eye can see. Warthogs are dotted throughout and hyenas skirt the group.

It is a serene place, like Noah's ark, with the animals all living and co-existing together. We remain still, snapping pictures, taking in this sight that will remain with me forever.

It is an amazing sight and a beautiful vista. We are here amidst nature at its finest. A truly remarkable place.

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