N'gorongoro conservation area


The N'gorongoro crater is a natural amphitheater created about 2 million years ago when the cone of a volcano collapsed into itself, leaving a 100 square mile (259km²) caldron-like cavity. This caldera, protected by a circular unbroken 2,000-foot high rim (610-metres), contains everything necessary for Africa's wildlife to exist and thrive. N'gorongoro is on Tanzania's 'northern safari circuit', and receives a good number of visitors who stay in lodges around the crater. Game viewing vehicles descend the steep crater wall every morning and spend the day on grass plains that are teeming with animals. However, the dark of night belongs to the animals, and all vehicles must leave the crater floor by sunset.

Early man also flourished around here at Olduvai Gorge, not far from the N'gorongoro Crater. This is known because, in 1960, Mary Leakey discovered a 1.75 million-year-old Homo habilis (nicknamed 'The Handyman' for his tool-making skills), who represents man's first step on the ladder of human evolution.

The Maasai are the current human inhabitants and are at liberty to live within the sprawling 2,500 square miles (6,480km²) conservation area around the crater. The Maasai never cultivate land as they consider it demeaning. Instead, they graze cattle, which hold a god-like status in Maasai culture, and in return, the cows provide almost everything necessary to live; meat, skin, milk, dung for the walls and floor of their huts, and warm blood extracted from the neck of a live cow and mixed with milk as an iron-rich food.

The 'lost world' of N'gorongoro was home to pigs the size of a hippopotamus, sheep-like beasts with 6-foot (3 meters) horns, and three-toed horses. Nowadays is inhabited by about 30,000 animals, of which half are zebra and wildebeest. This is the perfect situation for predators and spotted hyenas and lions lord over this domain. There are also some leopards, cheetahs, and three species of jackals. Tanzania's few remaining black rhinos are regularly sighted in the crater, as are large herds of buffalo. In the lake on the crater floor and in the Ngoitokitok swamps, reside plenty of hippos who remain partially submerged during the day and graze on grass at night. Although the area sustains a huge variety of species, not all live down in the crater. Some are better adapted to roaming the extensive conservation area surrounding the caldera.

Elephant herds are noticeably absent from the crater floor because the cows and calves tend to prefer the forested highlands. They sometimes appear at the crater rim but only rarely venture down into the grasslands. Only mature bull elephants roam the crater floor carrying around some massive tusks. Also absent from the crater are impala, topi, and oryx who reside more on the eastern Serengeti plains, but Grant's and Thompson's gazelles appear in the crater in good numbers. Giraffes are also missing from the crater as they favor the umbrella acacia and wait-a-bit thorn trees found higher up.

The salt-whitened shores of Lake Marathi are turned a pastel pink from thousands of flamingoes sifting algae and shrimps from this soda lake. The lake also attracts myriad other water birds including avocets, plovers and black-winged stilts whose long beaks probe the soft mud.

  • Plains teeming with grazing animals
  • Dark manned lions
  • Clans of the spotted hyena
  • Black rhino

Additional information