The first leg of our Tanzanian adventure took us into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and more specifically, the Ngorongoro Crater itself. The world's largest inactive and unfilled caldera, the Ngorongoro Crater is like nowhere else on the planet. Two to three million years ago a large volcano, likely a similar size to Africa's highest peak, Kilimanjaro, exploded and imploded in on itself, forming a crater 2000 feet deep and covering an area of a 100 square miles. It's an ecosystem within itself; the crater walls covered by extensive forests and bushland; the crater floor, largely open grassland, harbouring a seasonal salt lake and pockets of fever tree woodland.
Approximately 25,000 large animals live in the crater and because of its rich pickings, many never leave. The majority of wildebeest and half of the zebra that live here, don't join the migration, as the crater provides everything they need, year round. It's described by some as the world's largest zoo and you can see why! Viewing the crater from above, it seems devoid of life but as you get down at ground level, the sheer amount of animals and birds in there is breathtaking.
We only had the opportunity to explore for 7 or 8 hours but it definitely left us wanting to see more and you can see why many people visit the crater year after year. As a wildlife photographer, you are constantly juggling the composition of your subject, with the available light; making great images can, in some cases, take a lifetime of visits to a location and, of course, quite often your subject simply can't be even be found! As we only had one game drive here, many of these pictures are merely a record of what we saw and, hopefully, future visits will allow me to really study the crater's residents and garner some more exciting results. Fingers crossed for the future!
Very early on into our drive we came across two male lions, doing what they do best...lazing around! At last count, the crater is home to 62 lions, across six prides. We only had a close encounter with one group of lionesses, with cubs of various ages but did see several other lions at a distance, across the crater floor, presumably belonging to the other prides. As the crater is a natural enclosure, the lion population has suffered genetically, becoming significantly inbred. Very few migrating male lions get access to the crater, thus stunting the local gene pool.
The highlight of Ngorongoro for me was definitely the sighting of this Caracal; an elusive, medium-sized cat that, along with the Cerval, hunt the long grasses for small mammals, birds & rodents. Generally very hard to see, we were so lucky to be treated to such great views, despite the harsh, midday light .
This is really just a taster of the hundreds of photos I took in our short time in the crater. A truly incredible place! Check back here soon for part two and the Serengeti National Park!