These past couple of days, we at SFS went to explore Ngorongoro Crater and then had a three-night, four-day expedition in Serengeti National Park. Early Saturday morning we began our journey to Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. One of the two tarmac roads that leads to northern Tanzania goes through the edge of the crater and straight through the Serengeti. However, once it reaches Ngorongoro Area, it turns to gravel for the rest of the way. Ngorongoro Crater was probably one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. The crater was formed when a massive volcano exploded and collapsed on itself. We drove in on the rim of the crater with small look-outs. The crater is so massive and from the top, the inside looks like a completely different world. When we were on the edge, we were looking down 2,000 feet! It was incredibly beautiful; the view reminded me of one you would see from an airplane!
Next, we descended into the crater and did a game drive for a couple of hours. As soon as we got in, we witnessed a male and female lion! The female was trying to tell the male she wanted to mate by rubbing all over him and rolling around. It really was a very cute thing to see. However, the lions in the crater are in trouble. Because it is so hard for them to leave and enter the crater, inbreeding is a major problem. Also, all around the crater we saw huge dust tornadoes and even a water spout! Besides the lions, we also saw many wildebeests, flamingos, zebras, hyenas, jackals, buffalo, foxes, hippos, gazelles, bucks, and even two black rhinos!
After the crater, we headed to Serengeti National Park. The Serengeti and the land around it was beautiful, and how I had envisioned all of Tanzania to be—long, endless, flat plains. It was so incredibly beautiful, and I was at a loss for words as we did a two hour game drive to our campsite.
We arrived to our campsite after dark, so that was a little disorienting. However, we were all so tired that we ate dinner and went straight to bed. The next day, we left pretty early and did birding and predator exercises. This trip has definitely given me a new appreciation for birds. After the exercises, we went on another game drive! We saw lions in a tree (including cubs!), a leopard and her cubs, cheetahs right next to the road eating a wildebeest, and many other animals! We headed back to camp for lunch and a couple hours of relaxation time where some of us just sat around and played cards. After that, we went out for another game drive before dinner. It was a very wonderful day.
On the last full day that we were in the Serengeti, we had packed lunches for a day full of activities. We started with another birding exercise, then went to a hippo pool for lunch. After that, we heard a lecture from one of the head rangers about the problems the park faces. Between low funding, overcrowding, speeding, and poaching, many issues need to be addressed. It is easy to understand why some of these issues are hard to deal with a park that size (5,700 square miles—the size of Connecticut). After seeing some pretty cool things, like a lion hunting zebras, we also closed off our last night with a spectacular sunset.
Overall, this expedition was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. It has been incredible to experience so many types of East African landscapes, animals, and cultures. The time has just been flying by, as now we are preparing to take our final exam and depart. This has definitely been a trip that has changed my life, and I will never forget the things I’ve learned here and the people I’ve met.