A Lioness Attacks

Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
Trip End Feb 04, 2012

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Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23, 2012 - Day 3

We actually sleep until 4 A.M. I rise and go out on the balcony. It is s-o-o-o dark. There are no cities nearby to light the sky. The sounds are incredible. I hear hyena laughing, zebra braying and wildebeest calling to one another. Beth comes out to listen with me. We hear a rustling noise a few feet below us. It is not a threatening noise so we hold our ground. As the first rays of the sun rise over the lip of the crater, we see our companion is a little rabbit foraging for food. He takes off as soon as he sees us.

Everybody is up early and participating in a very good buffet breakfast. We leave the Serena at 7:30 A.M. for the crater floor. I have visions of a harrowing 2,000 foot descent in our Land Cruisers but it is not bad. Still, I'm glad it’s not the rainy season.

As we reach the crater floor and move out from the crater wall, sharp eyes spy a large male lion with prominent black mane. We can not get too close due to the terrain but our telephoto lens produces some excellent pictures. A second male lion accompanied by two females is spotted on a rise along the crater wall.

There is wildlife everywhere. We see a long line of trekking wildebeest in the distance. We were to learn several days later that these animals were the vanguard of millions of wildebeest and zebra reaching the end of their Great Migration.

We spend considerable time filming a huge solitary bull elephant estimated at 50 to 60 years of age. He is worth every second we spend observing his behavior. Within an hour, we have pictures of zebra; eland; wildebeest; hartebeest; Thompson gazelle; Grant gazelle; Cape Buffalo; hippo; rhino; hyena, jackal; baboon; ostrich; Egyptian geese; kite; Kory bustard; fish eagle; falcon; and crown crane. And, in the distance, is the huge flock of flamingoes we missed at Lake Manyara.    

It is 11:45 A.M. Directly in front of us is a lioness stalking and preparing to attack a grazing – careless – zebra. The lioness creeps to within 25 feet of the zebra. We all hold our breath. She attacks. The zebra is still unaware. The lioness is airborne. Her claws hit the zebra’s rear end. The zebra’s body instantly contracts and somersaults the lioness over its head. The zebra turns and runs with the lioness in hot pursuit. The zebra is braying loudly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a male zebra breaks out of the nearby herd and gallops directly at the lioness. The tactic works. The lioness’ concentration is broken and in an instant both zebras are gone.

The out of breath lioness turns and rejoins her two juvenile male cubs who had been no help at all with the zebra. The lioness walks directly at us. She walks behind our Land Cruiser and pauses for a few seconds next to our vehicle. We could have reached out and patted her on the head.

One of her cubs decides he will rest in the shade afforded by another of our Land Cruisers. Why? Who knows? He’s done nothing to require a rest. We use hand signals to tell our friends where the lion is.   

We watch as the lions retire to a shady area beyond our view. We then drive on toward the far end of the Crater and the elephant graveyard. The grass in this part of the Crater is soft and luxuriant. Elderly elephants on their last set of teeth come here to eat. When their teeth are worn to nubs, they starve to death. There must have been six or eight specimens in the area. They were huge…as were their tusks.

Later, we learn that Tanzanian Rangers collect ivory from elephants that die natural deaths, and, ivory confiscated from poachers. That ivory was sold last year in an international auction. The proceeds were used to buy automatic weapons for the Rangers. Now, they are no longer out gunned by the poachers. 

It’s lunch time. Our drivers tell us we are heading for a picnic lunch in a "shady area that features soft rocks" to sit on. We take some serious off-the-road turns into areas where 4-wheel drive was the only option. Suddenly, charcoal grills flanked by picnic tables with table cloths come into view. The surprise engineered by the smiling staff from the Ngorongoro Serena is complete. We have a great lunch in a really cool spot.  

As we drive back to the far end of the Crater, we see more animals than I have ever seen in one place. That record will not last long but, suffice it to say, we are all greatly impressed by Ngorongoro Crater.

In the middle of the crater, we see several safari vehicles clustered together. We stop to investigate. Some eagle eye has spotted a cheetah relaxing in the long grass well over 200 yards away. I could not find the cat until we broke out our binoculars. We then spent about ten minutes just observing this beautiful animal.

Ironically, the trip back up the side of the Crater to the Serena was more intimidating than the descent. We are in 4-wheel drive for the entire ascent and more often than not in our lowest possible gear. Looking out the window and down the sheer slope causes me to swallow hard a few times.

Back at the Serena, Tauck holds a “Welcome Reception” followed by a troop of young, very energetic Maasai dancers. We eat dinner in the main restaurant …and it was much better tonight.

We are back in our room by 9:15 P.M. Tomorrow a van will take our suitcases back to Arusha. We will operate out of our Tauck duffle bags for several days as we head for Olduvai Gorge, Nabi Gate and the Serengeti.               
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