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Naabi Hill - Ngorongoro Crater - Maramboi

Ngorongoro revisited


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we approach the Ngorongoro Crater Descent Road, we see some Maasai with their donkeys collecting firewood. Unlike here in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, there are no human settlements within Serengeti, so these are the first locals we've seen for a while (other than staff involved in the tourist industry of course).

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There is a one-way system for entering and exiting the crater, and from the Seneto Descent Road we get a good view down over the crater floor. It doesn't look too busy this afternoon – in fact I can only see one car in this part of the crater. It looks like it is dusty though.

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The heavily forested crater walls rise steeply from the crater floor – 610 metres to be exact – with the descent road gently traversing the sides as shown in the photo below.

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I really don't know how he does it. “There's a Yellow Mantled Widow Bird”. Malisa stops the car and points to a mangled bush. At first glance all we can see is intertwining branches, leaves and the odd yellow flower. Well, one of those yellow flowers isn't a yellow flower, it's a patch on a black bird. Apparently.

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I zoom my lens right in (as seen above) and can just about make out an outline; it isn't until I get home on my PC and give the picture a severe crop that I can see the bird properly. Yet Malisa spots - and identifies - this while safely and comfortably negotiating a steep gravel track. Extremely admirable!

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This one is a little easier to spot, even I can see this one with the naked eye.

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Male (above) and female (below)

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There are now at least two other cars in the crater, and they are just about to meet on a dusty track.

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Heading for the long grass with a small pond for a spot of fishing.

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Another large bird on the hunt for some lunch

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About a week ago when we were here the first time on this trip, we saw a rhino reasonably up close and were thrilled to bits as on all previous visits they have been spotted in the far, far distance only. Imagine our surprise when we see one equally close again this afternoon!

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This one's on the move and heading directly towards us!

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He stops to sniff the air for a while. They do say we should all “make time to smell the flowers”.

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Unless they taste nice. Then you should just eat them. The flowers that is, not the rhinos.

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When he is just about 100 metres away from us, he changes his mind and turns the other direction.

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Still eating of course.

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It is time for us to have some lunch, and more importantly, to use the local facilities, so we head for the picnic site.

I wonder if the road workers get danger money working here in the crater?

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Compared with last week, Ngoitoktok picnic site is extremely quiet today.

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Many of the old bull elephants in the crater have enormous tusks such as this guy.

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We see three more elephants in the distance, plus a couple of lions.

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There are a lot of birds around in the crater this afternoon, a few of which are new to us. Being a 'list girl' I always enjoy adding a new species to my life list.

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Egyptian Geese

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Fan Tailed Widow Bird

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Several Grey Crowned Cranes flying around.

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Long Toed Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis

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Hadada Ibis

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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The Wattled Starling gets its name from the black wattles (there's a surprise) which are only found in breeding males.

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Red Knobbed Coot

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As we climb out of the crater, I can feel the altitude affecting my chest, and I star coughing uncontrollably to the point of almost blacking out.

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The crater walls are near vertical in places, with trees somehow still clinging on to the slope.

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The view from the top back over the crater is nothing short of spectacular!

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I sleep the entire journey onwards to the gate with sheer exhaustion from the incessant coughing. Thankfully, we are now going down to a lower altitude for the rest of the trip.

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While Malisa signs us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we amuse ourselves by watching the baboons. Unfortunately these cheeky animals have become used to stealing food stuff from the large trucks coming from the markets, and as a result are now very aggressive every time they see a vehicle.

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These little monkeys have found some spilt rice on the ground.

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I can't stop myself dropping off to sleep in the car for the next part of the journey either, but fortunately I wake up as the sun starts to set and we approach our accommodation for the night.

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As soon as we enter the large grounds of this super tented camp, we spot a few impala in the near-darkness.

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The low light capabilities of this camera (Canon EOS 5D IV), is phenomenal. For my photographer friends, this picture was taken at ISO 16,000 with no noise reduction applied.

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One of the things I really like about Maramboi, is all the animals found in its grounds at any time of day or night. This is our third time staying here, and we have not been disappointed yet.

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Banded Mongoose

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Impala with the rooms behind.

When we check in I ask for a room nearest the restaurant / reception / car park so that I don't have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. They oblige and give us the closest room. That will help my poor lungs tremendously.

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As I said earlier, the grounds of the Maramboi are full of wild animals, and you are strictly forbidden to walk around after dark on your own. We call an askari (Maasai guard) to escort us from the room to dinner. Acting fairly agitated, he shines his torch on the next but one room from us. Two eyes look back at us from the bushes just by the entrance to the room. "Lion" says the askari.

You can see an arrow pointing to the location of the lion below, on a picture taken last year. In fact that was our room last year.

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There is a buzz of nervousness at dinner, with our waitress admitting to being “very scared”. There is only us and one other couple staying, and I get the feeling the staff can't wait to get away.

As it is an almost clear night, I want to take some photos of the stars this evening. For safety reasons the manager is understandably not willing to switch any lights off for me apart from those far out by the swimming pool, so I have to made do with what I've got and embrace the floodlit of trees as part of my picture.

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So, so many stars, with a few clouds partly obscuring the Milky Way

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As you can see from the arrow in the picture below, the lion is not exactly far away. The guards are constantly shining their torches across the grass, making sure they know where the lion is at all times.

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While photographing the stars, I can hear a car starting up, and later the askari who walks us to the room tells us that they 'lost' the lion temporarily, but found him when they went out with the Land Rover. He's killed a warthog and is tucking into his supper, so we can all relax a little for a while.

At the end of another fabulous day on safari with Calabash Adventures, I want to say thank you to Malisa, our wonderful guide, for not just being a fantastic driver, but also for looking after me while I have been feeling so poorly on this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged night sunset travel africa safari tanzania zebra donkeys lion rhino maasai giraffe baboons crane stars serengeti black_rhino ngorongoro heron ibis impala starling weaver warthog astro ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard milky_way night_shots calabash_adventures best_safari_company maramboi seneto naabi_hill olive_baboon widow_bird wattled_starling lapwing lodoare_gate maramboi_tented_camp astro_photography Comments (6)

Ngorongoro Crater

The Eighth Wonder of the the World?


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

At 02:00 I wake in a mad panic with a feeling of being unable to breathe. My head is spinning, the floor is moving like ocean waves and my heart is beating so fast it feels like I have just run a marathon (not that I am ever likely to know what that feels like).

I walk to the bathroom, having to hold on to the furniture along the way so as not to stumble, and by the time I return to bed I feel exhausted. As soon as I lie back down again, I start coughing. Thanks David for giving me your cold. Having spent the first three months of the year being very ill / hospitalised with pneumonia, and having to cancel a holiday in February, I was so looking forward to this trip. I really don't want to be sick!

A large group of tourists are leaving the lodge at the same time as us this morning (06:00), but Malisa has conveniently placed himself in the car park rather than just outside the door, so we get away before they do, which means we enter the Crater as the very fist vehicle this morning.

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Ngorongoro crater as seen from the rim

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Like an African safari in miniature, the Ngorongoro Crater is an iconic soup bowl filled with animals and wrapped in superlatives. As the largest un-filled, un-broken caldera in the world, the crater boasts a number of 'records', including the densest animal population in Africa. No wonder it is dubbed as the 8th Wonder of the World. Created some three million years ago when a large volcano exploded, the caldera is ca 20 km across and 610 metres deep; and contains all the 'Big Five' as well as a number of other plains game. Only the giraffe is absent, as the caldera walls are too steep for them to climb.

Also absent these days is the Maasai cattle, having recently been banned from the caldera. When we first started coming to Tanzania some ten years ago, the cattle were only permitted on the caldera walls, but over the years they have been spreading themselves further and further down, and last year we were quite surprised to see them on the crater floor itself. No more. They are not permitted into the caldera at all now.

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Instead of Maasai cattle, we see a number of Cape Buffalo on the crater walls this morning. Considered one of the Big Five, this is an aggressive and dangerous animal, responsible for a number of human deaths each year.

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We spot our very first lions about half way down the descent road, and we follow the two females all the way to the bottom, where they move off the road in their continued quest for breakfast.

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In the distance we – and the lionesses – have spotted a warthog. He too is very aware of the predators approaching.

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What to do now? The clever hog finds himself a hole in the ground and goes into hiding by 'reversing' into the crevice.

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We hold our breaths as the lionesses arrive in the area the warthog is lurking, looking in a few of the small ravines for the breakfast they know is hiding somewhere close by.

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Unfortunately for the lionesses, but fortunately for the warthog, they never do discover his hiding place. Well played Mr Hogg, well played!

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We follow the lionesses for a little while longer, hoping they might lead us to their babies.

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No such luck, and we join the baboons in looking at the lions disappear into the forest.

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Wise advice

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When Malisa spots a lone lioness in the distance, we stay a while watching to see if the gazelles spot her before she spots them as potential breakfast.

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Again nothing happens, another lion foregoes breakfast and we - and the gazelles - move on the pastures new.

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Endemic to the open grasslands in sub-Saharan Africa, the Secretary Bird stands around four feet tall and is so named because of the quill-like crest on the backs of its heads that resemble 18th century clerks with pens tucked into their wigs.

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Unlike most birds of prey, the Secretary Bird doesn't swoop down to catch its prey, rather he hunts on foot, jumping up and down to flush out his intended breakfast (snakes and lizards mainly) and then kills them with a force five times his own weight.

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When we met up with Tillya yesterday, her told me I have to take some award-winning photos on this trip; and I asked him if there was anything in particular he had in mind. “Zebras fighting” was his reply.

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Fortunately, these two very cooperative zebras do seem to have received the memo and put on an obliging display for me.

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More zebras down by Lake Magadi.

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As well as wildebeest and a hyena.

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And a very cute baby Thomson's Gazelle.

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The lake is also home to a number of Lesser Flamingos.

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To say the weather is changeable today is an understatement; the lifting roof has come down and gone up more times than a hooker's undergarments this morning already. Each rain shower lasts only a few minutes and is not heavy, but the wind makes sure that everything inside the car gets soaked.

It does make for some dramatic skies though.

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As Africa's heaviest flying birds, the Kori Bustard can weigh up to 19kg and stands at around 120cm tall. During courtship displays, the male inflates his neck and dances for the female, although this guy is obviously a little confused, as we cannot see any females around. Perhaps he is just practising.

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On all our previous visits to Ngorongoro, we have only ever seen the rhino from a great distance, so when Malisa asked me about my wish list this year, seeing a rhino up close was mentioned.

And there he is!

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Black rhino are on the Critically Endangered conservation status list, so I feel quite honoured to see one of the 30 or so rhinos that inhabit the caldera.

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We see eight lions in the distance, mainly sleeping.

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This old male of around 55-60 years old (it is mostly males who live in the crater) likes to stay close to the swamp as he has lost his last molars so favours the soft grass found here. Look at those impressive tusks though! I think they are the longest tusks I have ever seen!

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Mum is accompanied by her baby, who is around 3½-4 months old.

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May is considered part of the 'Green Season' (otherwise known as the 'Rainy Season', but obviously tour operators feel that 'Green' sounds better than 'Rainy'), and as such the prices are lower and there are fewer people around.

We love it. Not only do we often have the animal sightings completely to ourselves, we also enjoy all the flowers and lush vegetation around at this time of year.

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This area beside a spring of the same name is popular with tourists, and we too stop here for breakfast.

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It's times like these that I am glad we are travelling on a private safari.

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We have company, eyeing up the leftover breakfast.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Sacred Ibis

Meaning “water coming from the ground”, the spring is favoured by hippos as well as tourists.

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Warthogs have to be some of the ugliest animals around, but look at those legs: they look like an elegant lady's with stiletto heels!

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The male puts on an impressive display for his intended female, with some elegant dance moves.

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I love the way it looks as if these baboons are picking up the flowers to take in the wonderful aroma.

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And everyone should have an elephant or two in their flower bed!

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This one is even wearing flowers in his hair!

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We encounter a large breeding herd of Cape Buffalo.

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I do find their menacing stare somewhat intimidating.

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Although some do look more like country yokels than inner city thugs.

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But the babies are cute. As most babies are. This one is very young, just one or two days old.

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Look at the flies!

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The buffalo are joined by an elephant.

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My camera seems to be malfunctioning at this stage, refusing to focus or fire and the viewfinder becoming very dark. I feel a growing sense of panic until I remove the battery grip and find it works fine again. Phew.

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Wherever the buffalo go, the Yellow Billed Oxpeckers follow.

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The birds enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the buffalo (as well as other animals here); where the animal provides a 'home' for the birds, while the oxpeckers assist the buffalo by removing the ticks and flies.

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And in the trees, the Barn Swallows gather.

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So called because they like to live in close proximity to each other, these small birds have filled this tree to beyond recognition with their elaborate nests!

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This enormous bird stands around 1.5m (5 ft) tall and can weigh up to 19kg (42 lbs).

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The pool doesn't just attract hippos, we also see a few birds here:

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Cattle Egret

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African Spoonbills hiding those beautiful beaks of theirs

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Egyptian Goose

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Blacksmith Plover

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Red Bishop

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Hammerkop

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Sacred Ibis

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This is one seriously big antelope, standing at around 180cm (6 feet) tall at the shoulders. It is also one of the most skittish of the plains game; mainly as a result of being extensively hunted for their delicious meat.

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As a result they are therefore usually seen running away as soon as we approach, so it makes a very pleasant change to be able to photograph them actually standing still.

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The older they get, the greyer they become (just like humans) and the larger the dewlap grows. This guy is a seriously old dude by the looks of it. Notice how all the youngsters stare at us while the old man carries on eating, totally oblivious.

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We become a little concerned when we see a baby zebra lying in the middle of the road with no apparent urge to move as we get closer.

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Mum soon arrives on the scene to 'rescue' her little darling...

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... who promptly throws a tantrum. "I don't wanna move!"

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But mum's having none of it and marches him out of harm's way.

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Less than a week old, he is just too adorable!

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In these pictures you can easily see the facial warts that have given this animal its name.

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As we say goodbye to Ngorongoro Crater, I can easily appreciate why it is often dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World.

Once back up on the rim, I can yet again feel the effect of the altitude on my chest. I did have some temporary relief down in the crater, which is over 600m lower than the surrounding area.

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Coughing madly and struggling to breathe, I curse David for bringing a cold with him on this trip.

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We take one last look at the crater below before we make our way to our next destination and new adventures.

This amazing experience was made a reality by the wonderful staff at Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged elephant africa safari tanzania zebra buffalo lion rhino black_rhino ngorongoro hyena warthog ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard bustard rhinocerous calabash calabash_adventures hammerkop cape_buffalo secretary_bird zebras_fighting giant_tusk long_tusked_elephant Comments (7)

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