We are standing on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater, looking down into the 600-metre-deep, 19-kilometre-wide crater. It is absolutely breathtaking – truly one of the world’s natural 25,000wonders: a three-million-year-old volcano crater that collapsed under its own weight and has since become home to large mammals.
We head down into the crater, following a winding road with spectacular views. At the bottom we follow the track and see a group of vultures circling overhead, eyeing a large carcass in the grass below. Two hyenas are tearing away at it, devouring the carrion while at the same time chasing the jackals and vultures away. “Wait for your turn,” they seem to growl.
Our guide Cliff says it must have been a zebra, and that it was killed quite recently. So there has been a murder! We have a body; we have a motive… The question is: who killed the zebra? How would Crime Scene Investigation tackle this? There are several suspects, including the hyenas, the jackals and the leopards…
The hyena is unlikely to be the perpetrator, as it prefers eating carrion and rarely kills. The jackal? No, much too small… Could the leopard be the culprit? It could probably kill a zebra, but leopards usually drag their prey into a tree, where they can consume it in peace. The fact that we found the carcass in the grass frees the leopard from suspicion. This leaves only one possible guilty party: the lion. Lions can easily take out a zebra; particularly the females who hunt in groups and can corner a fast runner like a zebra.
Let’s see if we can find the culprit; it is probably still near the crime scene. After polishing off a big meal like this, lions usually seek out a quiet spot to have a siesta. As we drive along, we see many animals, but no lions. We continue our investigation: we tail some buffaloes and try to interrogate some zebras, but they refuse to talk. And then, just as we start thinking the case may have to remain unsolved, we spot the culprits: a group of lions sprawled on the side of the road. They don’t look aggressive, but it’s probably best not to wake them to ask for IDs – especially since lions are not liable to punishment for murder in Ngorongoro. On the contrary: it’s one of their specialities – after sleeping that is. And with that, CSI-Ngorongoro declares the case closed!