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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Living the Dream – My Life as a Professional Safari Guide

Part 2 –The 8th Wonder of the World

It was a misty morning when I first entered the gates of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; my destination, the 8th Wonder of the World, the Ngorongoro Crater. Upon entering the park, I drove for several kilometers along the mossy afromontane forest rim. Few words can describe the emotion I experienced when I first stood on the edge of the Crater while marveling at this perfect ecosystem spread below me. For anyone fortunate enough to visit this incredible wilderness, it makes one realize just how puzzling and prehistoric our continent actually is.

This 8,300km² World Heritage Site protects the planet’s largest intact volcanic caldera (260km²), and arguably one of the world’s most spectacular natural areas. Not only is it scenically breathtaking, but the crater is also home to one of the densest populations of large mammals on Earth. As if this wasn’t enough, most of the animals are extremely relaxed and habituated to the presence of humans, and with over 30,000 large animals residing here, photographic opportunities are endless.

I first visited the Crater in December 2010 with my guests, Chris and Rachael Garden. We spent almost 2 full days photographing the inhabitants of this natural wonderland. Our first sighting was of a pride of lions, while for the rest of the day our lenses focused on the remarkable amount of zebra, large herds of buffalo, wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle that abound here.

After a morning of filling our memory cards with remarkable images, we then enjoyed our lunch at one of the various picnic spots. The short, open grassland surrounding the picnic spot was perfect for low angle images of various species of birds, including beautiful Superb Starlings and blue-eyed Rufous-tailed Weavers.

A massive flock of Yellow-billed Kites kept us busy for most of our lunch and continually swooped low in search of tasty morsels of food. We ended the afternoon with another pride of lions, this time hunting zebra, before we finally ascended the steep crater walls back to our comfortable base, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge. The view from the lodge is spectacular and provides photographers with the prospect of capturing incredible landscape images.

Unfortunately, due to a nasty food surprise both Rachael and I had upset tummies during the night, which forced us to start our second morning in the crater later than anticipated. We nonetheless photographed all the crater residents during the day including another pride of lions hunting zebra and a massive hippo bull on land. On our way back to the lodge we were then treated to a stunning rainbow, painting the scene in front of us with a plethora of amazing colours.

My second visit to the crater was in February this year and the day spent with my guests Alan and Trish Sturrock must rank as one of my greatest days ever on safari. We started our morning with a pride of lions, consisting of a massive black-maned male, four approximately six month old cubs and five lionesses. During the course of the morning we photographed herd after herd of wildebeest, zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and buffalo, pods of hippos and two huge male Lions finishing of a wildebeest kill. And then, while ‘devouring’ the content of our tasty lunch boxes at a small secluded spot, Africa smiled upon us.

The male lions came down to a nearby pan to quench their thirst, and then lay down about 20 meters away from our vehicle. Suddenly Trish pointed to a small herd of buffalo bulls feeding nearby. They were in the midst of a brief confrontation, after which the one bull ran straight towards the two now very alert lions. The felines were up and ready to pounce on the big buffalo and what followed for the next 15 minutes was an incredible show of ‘cat and mouse’ – or rather cat and bull! The lions tried their best to overpower the buffalo but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective!) did not manage to penetrate its defence. The Buffalo eventually decided to make a run for it and left the 2 predators behind.

We departed shortly after this skirmish between these two powerful and impressive members of the “big 5” and within half an hour were rewarded with one of my favourite and most wanted animals, the Black Rhino. A female and her calf crossed right in front of our vehicle and allowed us a couple of images of these ancient and endangered beasts. We decided to take a slow drive back to the lodge and encountered 2 massive ‘tuskers’ en route. But still the crater was not finished with us; our final sighting for the day was of a Serval cat hunting rodents.

I can highly recommend a safari to the Ngorongoro Crater to anyone who is passionate about wildlife, photography and the African continent. Fortunately for me, I will be back at the Crater in a few days to try and capture some more images of this fantastic natural Eden. Until next time.

1 comment:

Benny and Lily said...

wonderful crater residence!! Feel better
Benny & Lily