There in the yellow light a pride of lions padded up out of a streambed, intent on a herd of grazing zebras; a lone hyena, big shouldered and narrow hipped, maneuvered among skittish warthogs; and a pair of cheetahs sat alert in tall grass, almost invisible as they scrutinized a hundred Thomson's gazelles with professional interest. Sharp-eyed vultures surveyed the morning from above, wheeling through white salt clouds whipped up from Lake Magadi.
The night belonged to the animals, but morning brought people down into the crater—Maasai to water and browse their hundreds of cattle, biologists to study the rhythms of life among elephants and lions, tourists to ogle the Maasai herders and the varied wildlife for which this part of East Africa is justifiably famous. People, wildlife, and livestock all converged here on a typical day, living in a workable—but inevitably wary—coexistence.
The first cattle appeared about eight o'clock, inching in single file down the steep, narrow track to the crater floor, urged along by a Maasai warrior named Moma, who would walk for 12 hours with his herd on this long day. A red cumulus of dust marked Moma's progress down the escarpment trail; he made a melody of clanging cowbells, singing, and urgent whistling, which grew louder as he trudged into view, first to arrive on the crater floor. Like most Maasai, he was lean from a meager diet and much walking, and he looked like a biblical prophet in his dusty sandals and red toga, which billowed and flapped in the cold wind. He carried a long spear in one hand as he whistled his herd of 80 down to the spring, left them guzzling there, and strode over to take his measure of the pasty looking tourists who had just arrived in the crater, the first of hundreds who would spend the day there.
They brandished cameras when they saw Moma, who struck a proud pose with his spear, his plaited hair bright with beads and bars of aluminum that caught the sun, his earrings dangling from pendulous lobes, his skin smeared bright with animal fat.
"Man," cried a distinctly American voice behind one of the cameras, "this looks just like a National Geographic picture!" Moma stepped over to view his own image on the camera screen and to relieve his portraitist of a thousand Tanzanian shillings (about a dollar). He collected similar sums from two other tourists.
"What would you do if a lion attacked your cows?" someone asked.