Today we have to get back across the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area - please feel free to refer to the map from the Day 39 album. We will be spending the night on the rim of the crater and descending into it tomorrow morning for another game drive to see what's living down there, and what isn't.
But before all that we have all day to cover about 100km, a journey that our guide tells us will take about 3 hours. So that means plenty of time to drive around today and look for more leopard or cheetah, or even a few of those hyena Adam's so desperate to see!
First things first we drove around the local watering holes looking for whatever we could find. Apart from a few buck, baboons and birds we did find a hippo walking around out of the water. Not actually that common to see. It was humungous although not that tall as it has short stubby legs. Still, we didn't get too close, not even in the truck!
Probably about an hour after setting out we passed an area of grassland where there is a large, but shallow sloping hill. A couple of trucks had stopped to have a look at something in the distance so, intrigued, we stopped as well.
Focussing our binoculars in the general direction we soon found what everyone was so excited about, 2 more cheetah!!! These two were even further away than the ones we saw previously though, which doesn't bode well for photographs but you can just about make them out on the horizon. They just seemed to be sitting on the peak lazily surveying their surroundings and certainly weren't in any hurry. Which is a shame really as we'd love to see them hunting!
We watched them for a little while then decided to drive around to the other side of the hill to see if we could get closer, this didn't work though and they were completely out of sight when we got there so we moved on.
Not long afterwards we spotted a lone lion but he was quite far away and it's not as if we haven't seen a lot of lions already. Shortly after this I needed to make a stop, as did several others. It appears this morning's cup of tea was perhaps not the best idea. There are toilets in various areas of the park, unfortunately though, we weren't near any of them and I was getting serious stomach cramps!
Driving along we finally found some hyena's which distracted me for 5 minutes. Initially there just appeared to be one walking along the side of the track in the long grass, then there were several more. Just up ahead and they walked directly in front of the truck and across to the other side allowing us to see there were actually 7 in total! Adam was in hyena heaven!
They really are quite strange looking things although there is some similarity to dogs. Apparently they're a bit like marmite though, you either love 'em or you have 'em! Not everyone in the truck was as enthused.
So we knew where the hyena's were, we also know where the lions and cheetah are, so hopefully, it might be safe to stop…
…always a risk although no longer illegal - I'll get to that - but we all pilled out of the truck to use the bush toilet. Although we could hardly go hiding behind bushes or in long grass considering what may be in the vicinity so had to go on the track behind our vehicle! I never thought I'd do that, especially as there were 3 of us girlies there at the same time, but I guess when nature calls… I really am becoming a bit of a bush girl just like the locals. They say that travelling changes you in many ways but I never thought that this would be one of them!
Anyway, about that law, apparently a few years ago it was illegal to leave your vehicle within the park, for obvious reasons, but a lawyer and his wife really had to go. So they stopped and were caught by a warden. They were fined but the lawyer husband sued on the basis that the warden, who was a man, was perving on his wife whilst she went to the toilet, and he won! So now you are allowed to leave the vehicle when you really have to, provided you have ensured the area is safe first and it's a pretty clear and wide open space! It seems to me that the obvious solution would be to build more toilet blocks but there you go!
It was literally only 5 minutes later that we came across our second leopard, whilst we were otherwise engaged our guide had received a phone call about one in the area but had once again kept quiet. We drove up to what was clearly going to be a popular leopard tree and there were a number of other vehicles around! YEY!
If at all possible this tree was even further from the track than the last one and the sun wasn't doing us any more favours either so I'm resigned to the fact that we'll forever have rubbish photos. However, that's not the point, right there, in front of us, is one of the most beautiful animals I've ever seen! I think I could quite happily sit there all day watching that leopard sleep, and maybe twitch its tail occasionally if I'm lucky. It would seem I'm perhaps the only one though and it wasn't long before we gave up and moved on once again.
It was good timing though as we came across another hyena. This one trundled along slowly towards the track, lay down in a puddle for a few minutes right by the truck, and the proceeded to move on all at its own slow pace. These creatures are clearly not afraid of us!
We eventually came to a small hill where there is a toilet stop and picnic sight at the top with a clear view of the surroundings, better late than never. There were a number of birds around and although I'm not sure what they are, they are about as common as pigeons and apparently equally as unexciting to our guide. That said they are quite colourful so I thought them worthy of a couple of pics!
It was early afternoon by the time we came across our 3rd leopard! I have to say that I honestly never thought we would find 1 so to find 3 is unbelievable good luck. Once again this tree was far from the track (bear in mind that all my pictures are taken at full zoom on my telephoto lens) but it was lying with all its legs and tail hanging down which made it pretty easy to spot. And then….literally no more than 100m away….leopard number 4!!! So lucky!
These cats will laze around all day in the heat but are active night predators, which means that the best time to see them on the move is at sunrise or sunset, give or take an hour or so. You really do have to be in the right place at the right time! By this evening we'll be long gone!
Our guide's phone pretty much went mad for the afternoon. It seems everyone had something to report and we drove around frantically trying to see everything available. We certainly found a lot more lazy lions. Although the best by far were the ones that were chilling out in a tree, pretty rare for lions. In fact they are only known to climb trees in certain areas, not all lions can climb! So we were very lucky to have seen this!
We also went on a wild goose chase for about an hour searching for some cheetah. Once again we weren't told what we were looking for, but the erratic driving and the surrounding countryside gave it away. However, not long after our guide finally confirmed our suspicions we gave up, it was clear they had moved on.
By then it was getting quite late and we had to start heading towards our next camp. Once again our cook and assistant had gone on ahead with the tents and would have dinner ready by the time we arrived.
The drive was pretty non-eventful. Most of the migration had moved on from its earlier location although there were still a few animals around. Eventually we began the long climb back up in to the mountainous region again and towards the crater rim.
The Ngorongoro crater is a huge, ancient volcano caldera that covers an enormous area of approximately 100 square miles! The sides are steep and rocky and there are only 2 roads, one in and one out. The animals that live in the middle are only the ones that have been able to climb down the rocky sides in the past. For this reason there are no giraffe in the middle! There are also no leopards as the vegetation is not suitable habitat although they can be found on the rim itself.
The main animals in the middle are wildebeest (although many of these migrate), zebra, gazelle (excluding impala for some reason), lions, elephants, black rhino (I haven't mentioned it previously but only white rhino are found in the Serengeti although we didn't see any, there are only black rhino in the crater) and cheetah. In fact there are only 4 cheetah in the crater and they are very hard to find. There are a few other animals like buffalo and hyena, not to mention a whole lake of flamingo, but these are the main ones.
When we arrived at the camp our immediate observation was the lack of view. I half expected to have a stunning view of the whole crater like the other day but the campsite itself is set slightly back and the view is blocked by trees. Stefan and Roen later solved that problem by climbing onto the roof of a toilet block to watch the sunset. They were kind enough to take my camera the first time they went up there as well.
It's really cold up here, especially as night falls. I'm glad we bought jackets and sleeping bag liners that's for sure. Tomorrow we drive down into the crater and then cover as much of it as we can before 2pm and then we have the long drive back to Arusha before 5pm.
For tonight though I'll be interested in listening to the animals outside our tent, there are no fences around this camp but there is a guard with a machine gun!