Ngorongoro National Park
"the largest unbroken and un-flooded caldera in the world"
Encompassing three spectacular volcanic craters, the Olduvai Gorge, huge expanses of savannah, forest and bush land, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the flagship of Tanzania's tourism industry. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), measuring 8,300 square kilometers, is also the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals coexist in harmony. The NCA became a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1971 and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. Originally part of the Serengeti National Park when the latter was established by the British in 1951, in 1959 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) was formed, separating NCA from Serengeti. Land within the area is multi-use, providing protection status for wildlife while also permitting human habitation. Its uniqueness lays in the fact that the NCA is where man, livestock and wild animals live in peace: Maasai cattle can sometimes be seen grazing alongside zebras on Ngorongoro's grassland.
Had it not become the world's sixth-largest unbroken caldera, then what is now known as the Ngorongoro crater could have been a towering volcanic mountain, as high as Kilimanjaro.
The crater is the flagship tourism feature for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is a large, unbroken, un-flooded caldera, formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed some three million years ago. The Ngorongoro crater sinks to a depth of 610 metres, with a base area covering 260 square kilometers. The height of the original volcano must have ranged between 4,500 to 5,800 metres high. Apart from the main caldera, Ngorongoro also has two other volcanic craters: Olmoti and Empakai, the former famous for its stunning waterfalls, and the latter holding a deep lake and lush, green walls.
On the leeward of the Ngorongoro highlands protrudes the iconic Oldonyo Lengai, an active volcano and Tanzania's third highest peak after Kilimanjaro and Meru . Known to local people as the Mountain of God, Mount Lengai's last major eruption occurred in 2007. At the mountain's foot is Lake Natron, East Africa's major breeding ground for flamingos.
The name Ngorongoro is derived from llkorongoro, a Maasai word given to the age group of Maasai warriors who defeated the previous occupants of the area, known as the Datong around the 1800s. The Datong had in turn taken them from their predecessors the Hadzabe (bushmen/hunter-gatherers). The name Ilkorongoro echoed sounds of the bells 'koh-rohng-roh' that the Maasai wore during the battle, and it is from this that the name Ngorongoro comes from. Furthermore the Maasai have also given names to the walls known as 'entiak' which defines as sheer drop, and the floor as 'ramat' meaning heath-land of the crater.
Flora and Fauna
A population of about 25,000 large animals, largely ungulates along with the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, lives in the crater. These include black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (CR), which have declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995, and hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius which are very uncommon in the area. There are also many other ungulates: wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus (7,000 estimated in 1994), zebraEquus burchelli (4,000), eland Taurotragus oryx, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles Gazella granti and G. thomsoni (3,000). The crater has the densest known population of lion Panthera leo (VU) numbering 62 in 2001. On the crater rim are leopard Panthera pardus, elephantLoxodonta africana (EN) numbering 42 in 1987 but only 29 in 1992, mountain reedbuckRedunca fulvorufula and buffalo Syncerus caffer (4,000 in 1994). However, since the 1980s the crater's wildebeest population has fallen by a quarter to about 19,000 and the numbers of eland and Thomson's gazelle have also declined while buffaloes increased greatly, probably due to the long prevention of fire which favors high fibrous grasses over shorter less fibrous types.
In summer enormous numbers of Serengeti migrants pass through the plains of the reserve, including 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,00 zebra and 470,000 gazelles. Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus mainly occur mainly near Lerai Forest; serval Felis serval occur widely in the crater and on the plains to the west. Common in the reserve are lion, hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta and jackal Canis aureus. Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (VU), though common in the reserve, are scarce in the crater itself. Wild dog Lycaon pictus (EN) has recently disappeared from the crater and may have declined elsewhere in the Conservation Area as well. Golden cat Felis aurata has recently been seen in the Ngorongoro forest.
Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA. These include ostrich Struthio camelus, with white pelican Pelicanus onocrotalus, and greater and lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber and P.minor on Lake Makat in Ngorongoro crater, Lake Ndutu and the Empakaai crater lake where over a million birds forgather. There are also lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, Ruepell's griffon, Gyps ruepelli (110) Verreaux's eagle Aquila verreauxii, Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus, pallid harrier Circus macrourus, lesser falcon Falco naumanni (VU), Taita falcon F. fasciinucha, kori bustard Choriotis kori, Fischer's lovebird Agapornis fischeri, rosy-breasted longclaw Macronyx ameliae, Karamoja apalis Apalis karamojae (VU), redthroated tit Parus fringillinus and Jackson's whydah Euplectes jacksoni. Sunbirds in the highland forest include the golden winged sunbird Nectarinia reichenowi and eastern double collared sunbird N. mediocris. Other waterbirds found on Lake Eyasi include yellowbilled stork Mycteria ibis, African spoonbillPlatalea alba, avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and greyheaded gull Larus cirrocephalus. The butterfly Papilio sjoestedti, sometimes known as the Kilimanjaro swallowtail, flies in the montane forests. It has a very restricted range but is well protected in national parks.
The variations in climate, landforms and altitude have resulted in several overlapping ecosystems and distinct habitats. WithinTanzania the area is important for retaining uncultivated lowland vegetation, for the arid and semi-arid plant communities below 1,300 m, for its abundant shortgrass grazing and for the water catchment highland forests. Scrub heath, montane long grasslands, high open moorland and the remains of dense evergreen montane forests cover the steep slopes. Highland trees include peacock flower Albizzia gummifera, yellowwood Podocarpus latifolia, Hagenia abyssinica and sweet olive Olea chrysophylla. There is an extensive stand of pure bamboo Arundinaria alpina on Oldeani Mountain and pencil cedar Juniperus procera on Makarut Mountain in the west.Croton spp. dominate lower slopes. The upland woodlands containing red thorn Acacia lahai and gum acacia A. seyal are critical for protecting the watershed.
The crater floor is mainly open shortgrass plains with fresh and brackish water lakes, marshes, swamps and two patches of Acacia woodland: Lerai Forest, with codominants yellow fever tree Acacia xanthophloea and Rauvolfia caffra; and Laiyanai Forest with pillar wood Cassipourea malosana, Albizzia gummifera, and Acacia lahai. The undulating plains to the west are grass-covered with occasional umbrella acacia Acacia tortilis and Commiphora africana trees, which become almost desert during periods of severe drought. Blackthorn Acacia mellifera and zebrawood Dalbergia melanoxylon dominate in the drier conditions beside Lake Eyasi. These extensive grasslands and bush are rich, relatively untouched by cultivation, and support very large animal populations.