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Ngorongoro Crater – In Search Of The Black Rhino

By Annual Adventure Adventure, Africa, Tanzania

I stepped out onto the hotel’s balcony, awestruck at the view that lay before me. Spread out in front of me and stretching for miles was the Ngorongoro Crater, rumored to be the origin of life on earth (although we know better now). The “crater” is actually a collapsed caldera of a volcano which now houses abundant wildlife, including the elusive and critically endangered black rhino.

Ngorongoro Crater Pano
My journey lies ahead.
Note: The is part 5 of a 5 part series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Photo Summary

Lights Along The Pathway

As with all days on safari, we started our trek into the Ngorongoro Crater early, before sunrise. It was especially important for the Ngorongoro Crater because of the requirement to stay on the roads combined with the loads of people who visit the crater every day since it is an easy day trip from Arusha.

We were awake and packed long before the sun rose and drove into the park the instant they opened the gates. It was beautiful seeing the lights dotting the winding pathways down into the crater and my anticipation for the day built as we descended. It was my last day on safari and I kept my fingers crossed that I would see one of the 35 black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater before it was over.

Into The Ngorongoro Crater

Finishing our slow descent into the depths of the Ngorongoro Crater, I became vigilant and kept my eyes peeled for any horned creatures. I would see a black rhino today, I had to. As we drove down the road, our first animal sighting was a great bit of comic relief from the pressure of searching for one animal. Right in front of our Land Cruiser was a zebra going to town on a boulder, rubbing his belly vigorously and having the time of his life.

Zebra Belly Rub
Ahhhhh yeah, that’s the spot….

It was a sweet, intimate moment between two loving adults. Well, I suppose I’m not sure how fun it was for the rock.

Playtime For The Lions

Moving on, we headed down the road in search of the black rhino. Soon we stumbled upon a large pride of lions lounging in the morning sunlight. The little ones were rowdily playing with one another while the parents slept in and tried to avoid the commotion. Some parents, of course, weren’t so lucky.

Lioness Bitten
It’s too early for this…

With the abundant wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater, these lions were no doubt well fed and weren’t in the mood to hunt any time soon. Nevertheless, It was great hanging around and watching these lion cubs play and jump around. It was easy to see how this play time was the perfect training for their hunting and survival skills later in life. We enjoyed the show but remained focused on our original goal, and there was no way that any black rhinos would be venturing near this group!

Lion Cubs Playing
Come join us!

Follow The Fart Noises

Although it wasn’t a black rhino hangout, Sami said we would be remiss to not stop by the Ngorongoro Crater’s hippo pond. Having only seen hippos from very far away so far,  I thought that sounded like a great opportunity and we headed in that direction. We drove down the dusty road, getting inquisitive looks from some water buffalo along the way.

Ngorongoro Crater Water Buffalo
The standard water buffalo pose.

We drove up the road and into a stunning, scenic clearing full of hippos with a gorgeous crater backdrop. There was lush greenery, blue skies, an amazing cluster of animals…

…and all I could hear were fart noises. The kind you make with your armpit as a kid. It was almost as if I was driving into a cartoon rendering of hippos. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of these powerful, dangerous animals sounding like they were deflating from behind.

Ngorongoro Crater Hippo Pond
PHBTHPPTPHTPHPHHPH

Regardless of the silly noises these hippos were making, I was very happy to be able to see them. They were one of the few animals on my Tanzania “bucket list” that I didn’t feel I had properly experienced yet, and now I was able to get up close and maybe a little too personal with them! Now it was time to try and complete the last animal on that bucket list.

An Experienced Guide

Since we had struck out thus far with finding a black rhino, it was time to pull out all of the stops. Sami was the best spotter in the business, but to find the black rhino we would need a tracker who could sniff them out. One that lives, breathes, and eats black rhino.

Ngorongoro Crater Lion on Road
This way!

It’s possible I may be embellishing a bit about hiring the lion as a tour guide. It did, however, make a great diversion on our way out of the hippo pond. The lions in Ngorongoro Crater are a bit more elusive than the ones in Central Serengeti, so we were lucky to see this beautiful lady up close.

Naturally, the lioness created a bit of a traffic jam along the narrow road as every land cruiser in the area clamored to get the best view. One thing I noticed is that the drivers in the Ngorongoro Crater were MUCH more aggressive than any other place we had visited while on safari. I would guess this is due both to how crowded it is on the roads in the crater and the fact that this is an easy day trip from Arusha, meaning many operators only do crater tours.

In the other parks, drivers always observed proper etiquette of not blocking another person’s view or shot and doing their best not to appear in the background of a photo. In the Ngorongoro Crater, all bets were off as drivers would pull right in front of me, sometimes right next to my door so that all I could see was the side of their vehicle! It was a bummer to have so many inconsiderate drivers in such a beautiful area. Anyhow, mini-rant over, back to the lioness.

In order to position ourselves to get a better head-on shot of her, we fought through the traffic (and kept a safe distance from the lioness) to get ahead of her path. It paid off as we were the only car outside the crowd when she approached, and I was able to get a great view of her as she called out to her cubs.

Lioness on Road
Mama’s coming home.

The lioness passed right under my window before heading off the road and into her home. At that point, however, my attention was less on her and more on the black speck that I caught in the distance as she passed by the car…

Could It Be?

Black Rhino with Ostriches
Day 462: The ostriches suspect nothing and have accepted me into their flock.

I couldn’t believe what I saw. There, off in the distance, blending in among the ostriches, was an honest-to-goodness black rhino. It was deep in the distance but slowly lumbering in our direction. I was happy to watch the other land cruisers continue on after the lioness as I hunkered down and waited patiently.

Not only did this black rhino walk closer to me, but I didn’t even notice until later that it was accompanied by another one! There, right in front of me, were 6% of the black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater and 1.6% of all of the black rhinos in Tanzania!

Black Rhino Pair
Yes, come to me…

The color difference in the photos is not because they are different types of rhino, it’s actually just because of a mud bath that the darker one took. Speaking of colors, black and white rhinos don’t actually get their name for any color related reasons.

White rhinos get their name from their lip shape. Originally named WIDE rhinos for their wide lips, the name got misunderstood as white rhinos. Black rhinos, originally called hook-lipped rhinos (as you can see in the photos), just inherited the name black rhino for being the opposite of white.

Black Rhinos Posing
Showing off their distinctive feature.

I basked in their beauty and watched them get as close as they were comfortable with before veering off into the distance again. I was on cloud nine. I did it. The last big animal that I was hoping to see on my safari gave me a fantastic greeting.

It was time for us to pack up and head back to Arusha before our permit expired. The safari was officially over, and I had just one more day of touring Arusha before hopping in a plane and heading for Uganda. This trip had by far exceeded my expectations and I knew I would be on a high for weeks to come. I hope you enjoyed sharing my experience, I’m happy to answer any questions and re-live the adventure through discussion.
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4 comments

  • Hi! I have been to Tanzania 4 times… never found a Rhino! I am just not quite sure I can live happily without seeing one! It has been suggested that I go back to the Norongoro Crater… you think my chances are good???

    1. They seemed fairly abundant in the crater, with plenty of White Rhinos and the two Black Rhinos I saw. However, I can’t say I recommend the Ngorongoro Crater very highly unless you absolutely MUST see a rhino. It was very busy and vehicles must stay on the roads, which leads to a lot of congestion, crowds, and (in my humble opinion) a bit of an inauthentic experience. But if you’re dead set on seeing a Rhino, it’s not a bad place to try!

  • What a fantastic series of posts! I’m about to leave for my first Tanzania safari in a few days, so of course I’ve been filling my time by looking for photos and tips of what to expect. Sprinkled among the (many) ads for photo safaris, I was overjoyed to find such a well-written blog from a REAL person (plus an avid and skilled photographer) who went at about the same time of year as I’ll be going. I only hope, with a bit of luck and a lot of patience, that we experience some of the same wonders you did. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Wow, thanks for the unbelievably kind words, Sara! I hope you have a fantastic safari experience and I’d love to hear all about it when you get back! Send photos!

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