Ngorongoro Crater National Park
If you could spend one day in Africa, Ngorongoro Crater might be the place to do it. This lush and beautiful caldera, largest unflooded collapsed volcano in the world, is home to a density and variety of wildlife that have made it known as an eighth wonder of the world.
Vista from the rim, a great green bowl 10 miles (16 km) across arrayed with colorful birds, grazing animals, and powerful predators in a tranquil, idyllic setting, is unlike any other in the natural world. Here is Africa’s densest known population of lions, lounging about in prides or family groups of unusual size—up to 30 or so, because generally speaking, the living is easy and the prey base can support this many.
Black rhinoceros—possibly the only viable breeding population left in northern Tanzania— look about nearsightedly (and sometimes charge threatening-looking vehicles). Large herds of wildebeest graze.
Animals are free to come and go up and over the 2,000-foot-high (610-m) rim and back again— but most of them don’t except in periods of extreme drought. Normally there is enough food and fresh water here for zebras, gazelles, buffalo, elands, hartebeest, warthogs, and all the rest (the crater supports some 25,000 large mammals).
Waterbirds are always around the swamps and streams—spoonbills, jacanas, herons, Egyptian geese. Thousands of lesser flamingos throng Lake Magadi.
Kori bustards, heaviest birds that can fly, weighing up to 41.8 pounds (19 kg), fluff plumage over their backs in elaborate grassland territorial display. Ostriches graze, towering (at six feet/2 m) over the rest. Crowned cranes need not display to look spectacular, and golden-winged sunbirds brighten the highland forest.
Leopards prowl rim woodlands, where blue monkeys and olive baboons swing about and bushbabies call at night, attracting the attention of spotted serval cats. Augur buzzards and Verreaux’s eagles glide over the canopy.
Almost all the elephants are males which leave when the courtship urge overtakes them and then return. Females are absent, it’s believed, because browse suitable for young families is less abundant here. Giraffes and impalas are missing, partly because they find the angles of climb difficult, and for giraffes, much of the food is lower than their preferred treetop height.
Otherwise, if you picnic, be prepared for almost anything to join you—especially African black kites and vervet monkeys.
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