Tanzania, a country situated in East Africa, has dedicated over 30% of its land
area to national parks and safaris play a vital part in its economy.
fact, the word “safari” derives from the local Swahili language and means
Of all Tanzanian wild life sanctuaries, pride of place goes to
the Ngorongoro crater which has been described as the eighth wonder of the
world. This crater is situated on the Great Rift Valley which is a giant
6,000-mile geological fault in the earth’s crust. It begins in Lebanon, and
continues south through the Sea of Galilee, Jordan Valley, Dead Sea, Arava, Red
Sea, eastern flank of Africa and finally ends up in Southern Africa. Volcanic
upheavals accompanied the formation of the Rift Valley. One of these volcanoes
subsequently collapsed into a depression or caldera resulting in the Ngorongoro
This crater is one of the largest in the world with a diameter of
approximately 19 kilometers.
The crater rim supports evergreen forests
whilst the crater floor, some 500 meters below, is dominated by grasslands,
small patches of trees and a lake called Lake Magadi.
The descent to the
crater floor takes about 45 minutes.
This is a natural sanctuary and is
the permanent home of up to 25,000 animals. The abundance of grass supports the
numerous herbivores including wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and buffalo. There are
25 endangered black rhino in the crater. Because of the commercial value of
their horns, these magnificent animals were poached to the brink of extinction
in the 1980’s. There are also numerous hippos.
After the malaria carrying
mosquito, the hippo represents the biggest danger to the tourist. This animal,
weighing close to a ton, will charge anyone getting between it and the water
which is its natural habitat.
In addition to herbivores, the Ngorongoro
Crater contains one of the largest concentrations of predators in the whole of
These include lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs, jackals,
spotted hyenas and servals. The latter are medium-sized wild cats which share
common traits with the cheetah. These slender animals possess long legs and a
head small in relation to their body. The serval specializes in catching
rodents. Cheetahs are well suited to hunt in open grasslands and are the fastest
land animal capable of speeds of 110 kilometers an hour when chasing after a
It has been estimated that Ngorongoro lions obtain up
to 80 percent of their food from hyena kills and they are thus predominantly
scavengers. Despite its dominance and power, the lion is not critical for the
Ngorongoro ecosystem which would not be altered should lions disappear. When
lions mate, the activity lasts for four days and copulation is repeated once
every 25 minutes.
The lion is not known as the king of the beasts for
nothing! The gestation period for a lioness is about three and a half to four
months and the average litter size consists of two to three cubs.
diversity and abundance of wild life is the Ngorongoro Crater is extraordinary.
On one occasion when our vehicle was stationary overlooking a pool with a baby
hippo and mother, there were two male lions lying on the other side of the road.
Just ahead was a hyena and our ever vigilant guide, Martin, spotted a python on
the branch of a tree.
Close to the Ngorongoro Crater lies another
geological fissure, the Oldupai Gorge. This world famous site is home to some of
mankind’s earliest ancestors. Hominid fossils dating back millions of years were
discovered there by the paleoanthropologist, Mary Leakey.
The Crater and
its immediate surroundings constitute the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which was
created to conserve wildlife and the ecosystem, promote tourism and safeguard
the interests of 60,000 indigenous pastoralists who are members of the Maasai
tribe. These people originated in North Africa and migrated to the fertile
plains of East Africa several hundred years ago.
The Maasai live in
peaceful coexistence with the wildlife whilst maintaining their tribal
traditions and dress code. They have, however, to a large extent abandoned their
nomadic life style.
Their livelihood depends on the ownership of cattle,
sheep, goats and donkeys. The welfare of their cattle is one of their major
Herds are protected at night from predators by being kept in an
Young calves sleep in the family huts. Older boys lead the
herds to grazing areas in the highlands. Grazing is only permitted on the crater
floor in the dry season.
The staple diet of the Maasai consists of milk
and maize. On special occasions, they drink fresh blood taken from cattle. In
this ceremony, a cow is caught and using a bow and arrow, the jugular vein in
the neck is pieced. The blood is collected into containers and is avidly drunk
by members of the tribe.
The neck wound is closed with dung and the cow
runs off, none too worse for its harrowing experience.
GUEST LODGES are
situated on the rim of the crater.
Our touring arrangements were made by
&BEYOND, a company offering 5-star luxury accommodation in their Ngorongoro
Crater Lodge. In this lodge, there are a total of 30 bungalows divided into 3
camps. To maintain intimacy, each camp has its own viewing decks as well as
guest sitting and dining areas.
Inspired in design by the Maasai mud
homestead, each bungalow is a stilted mud and thatch suite and represents the
ultimate in luxury with wood paneling and decorations of African art. The
bedroom, sitting room and en suite bathroom boast chandeliers, a fire place and
floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the magnificent Crater below.
Personal butlers tend to guests’ every need, bringing tea in bed and stoking
&BEYOND’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge has been listed in
Conde Nast gold list of world’s best places to stay and rated as one of the top
100 hotels in the world. It is without doubt one of the most architecturally
spectacular safari lodges in Africa.
Another world famous tourist
attraction in Tanzania is the Serengeti National Park.
“Endless plains” in the Maasai language.
This 15,000 square-kilometer
park is situated in the northern part of the country and is contiguous to the
Maasai-Mara Park in Kenya. This area is most noted for the annual migration of
over two million animals including one and a half million wildebeest, 200,000
zebra and 500,000 gazelle. The migration is driven by the search for
Beginning in June and continuing through July, animals move north
in a clockwise direction initially crossing the Grumeti River in the Serengeti.
In August, the animals arrive at the Mara River, cross it and end up in the lush
plains of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. They remain there through September and
In November, when grazing pastures in the Maasai Mara become
scarce, animals migrate back to the short grass in the south eastern Serengeti
plains which by this time have received adequate rainfall. They remain there
from December to March. During this time, the wildebeest give birth and over
400,000 offspring are born. The wildebeest slowly move north-west in April and
May to the Serengeti’s western corridor which has received abundant rains. When
the grass withers, the animals move north once again and a new cycle
This is the largest migration on earth and the animals cover over
1,600 kilometers annually. River crossings represent their greatest threat where
the weak and injured fall prey to predators including lions, cheetahs, wild
dogs, jackals and crocodiles.
To follow the migration, &BEYOND has
established two mobile luxury tent camps each containing eight tents. There is a
comfortable bed and bathroom with a bucket shower. Each tent is furnished with
Indian rugs and polished brass decorations. Electricity is supplied by a
generator. Dinner is served under the stars. A personal butler is assigned to
These seasonal camps move round the Serengeti to follow the
migration. It takes 3 days to dismantle a camp and another 4 days to establish a
new one. This is done in designated areas. None of the &BEYOND camps is
fenced in and animals are free to come and go. For this reason, it is only
permitted to wander about after dark under the watchful eye of a ranger. Despite
being isolated in the bush, it was still possible to watch the World Cup being
played out in South Africa on a giant television screen.
One evening when
we were having dinner in the open under a campfire in this tent camp, a hippo
charged across the open area 5 meters away from us. Later when we were being
escorted to our tent by our ranger, we were again accosted by a hippo. “Freeze,”
whispered the ranger. We readily complied and after a few anxious moments, the
hippo wandered off aimlessly. At night we could hear hippos bellowing outside
Because of their unique nature, both Ngorongoro and Serengeti
Reserves have been recognized as World Heritage Sites. One disturbing piece of
news is that the current Tanzanian government is considering building a highway
across the northern part of the Serengeti through the migration route. If
carried out, this could represent an ecological disaster since it could
potentially interrupt the migration.
Irving Spitz, Emeritus Professor of
Medicine, is an avid traveler and photographer. He writes, reviews and lectures
on medical topics, music, art, history and travel. Additional pictures, articles
and reviews can be seen at www.irvingspitz.com
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