With a year-round supply of water and enough food, the Ngorongoro Crater is able to support a vast number of wildlife throughout the year. This means that you will always find an abundance of animals when visiting the Ngorongoro Crater regardless of the time of the year that you go.
There are however two main seasons – the dry season and the wet season. The dry season is from June to October and generally the best time to visit the Crater. During this time there is less rain and the grass cover is short making wildlife viewing and wildlife photography easier. Clear skies will also enable you to enjoy clear views over the crater.
November to May is the wet season and this includes the short rains (November and December) and the long rains (March to May). A dry spell is typically received in January and February though it can be quite unpredictable. During the short rains, rain typically falls during the evening.
Visiting the crater during the long rains is a great idea if you wish to escape the crowds that typically frequent the crater during the dry season. You will have rainy days but rain often does not last the entire day. For birders, the period from November to March is the best time to see migrant bird species.
Should you have the chance to visit Tanzania at the beginning of the year, you should absolutely include a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding area. This period from January to March, just after the short rains (November and December), often offers a much more exciting experience than a visit in the dry season, because this is when the animals congregate on the short grass plains to have their young.
Around January massive herds of grazers end up in the southern area of the Serengeti around Ndutu and forms part of the incredible annual Serengeti migration. It is calving season. During this time you are guaranteed to enjoy incredible sightings of big herds all together allowing for incredible photographic opportunities. The wild flowers are also in bloom, painting the landscape in white, yellow and purple, attracting many butterflies. The rainstorms are dramatic and usually do not last long. This often leads to magnificent cloud formations and the build-up of a rainstorm is a sight to behold.
During calving season the area becomes host to mega-herds of Wildebeest, their population over one million. Thousands of young Wildebeest calves can be born per day. Zebras are the second most common plains animal, while you will also spot Eland, Grant’s Gazelle and Thomson’s Gazelle. They too drop their young during this time. Wildebeest often graze in mixed herds with zebra and other grazers, which gives heightened awareness of potential predators.
Predators are also in abundance during this time as they take the opportunity to feed on vulnerable prey. Lions, hyenas, and cheetahs show up in large numbers. It is however not always an easy task to get to their prey as wildebeest mothers instinctively know how to protect their young. They will form a barrier around their little ones making it harder for predators to reach them. On the short grass plains visibility is good which means that they can spot a potential predator from further away.
Many of the predators however also have their young during this time. There is a greater opportunity for their cubs and pups to feed on prey that can be caught more easily. Young ones can also learn and practice to catch their prey. This ensures a higher rate of survival for these young animals.
So why is this area such an attractive breeding and feeding ground for these animals? It all has to do with the quality of the grass which young grazers depend on during their early days. By feeding on this nutrient-rich grass they can increase their strength quickly which helps to protect them against predators. The short grass plains are volcanic in origin. Because of this the soils are shallow and has a high mineral content. The result is soil that is very alkaline and fertile. It can retain water closer to the surface to support grasses that are high in nutrition. This creates the perfect feeding ground for grazers.
From April onwards most of the migratory herds will start to move back to the north where there is permanent water. Except for a number gazelles, which are not so dependent on water, the area becomes empty again over time. Some predators, especially females with young, will remain here after the migration has moved on. Young adults may follow the migration to the north.
When visiting Ndutu during calving season, combine this with a trip into the Ngorongoro Crater. Though not as highly concentrated as in the short grass plains you will also enjoy massive herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles with little ones. There is a rich diversity of animals in the crater and this is a park not to be missed. You can read more about the Ngorongoro Crater and what makes it special.
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