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Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of Africa's most important wildlife areas and a bold experiment in multiple land use. At its core is the Ngorongoro Crater, a giant caldera where the dramas of life are played out on its plains.

Fast Facts

Major Attractions
  • High concentrations of wildlife
  • Empakaai Crater
  • Oldoinyo Lengai Mountain
  • Volcanic landscape
  • Traces of the beginning of human life at Olduvai Gorge
  • Maasai pastoralism
  • Olduvai Gorge
Activities
  • Walking safaris - Lake Natron, Olmoti Crater
  • Trekking safari - Oldonyo Lengai, Empakai Crater,
  • Archaeological site visits - Olduvai Gorge
  • Maasai cultural tours
  • Aerial safari
  • Bush dinners
Size
  • Ngorongoro Conservation Area(NCA) is 8,292 sq kms(3,200sq miles)
Location
  • Located in northern Tanzania, sharing part of the Serengeti plains to the north-west and with the towns of Arusha, Moshi and Mount Kilimanjaro to the east, Ngorongoro forms part of the unique Serengeti ecosystem. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area forms part of the northern circuit of Tanzania.

ABOUT

Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of Africa’s most important wildlife areas and a bold experiment in multiple land use.  At its core is the world famous Ngorongoro Crater, a giant caldera in which the dramas of life on the African plains are played out each day by a diverse assemblage of large mammals – wildebeest, zebra, lion and rhino.  Beyond the crater rim, Maasai pastoralists herd their cattle across the plains, seemingly oblivious to the herds of wild animals sharing this vast landscape, the ‘endless plains’ of Serengeti. Lake-filled Empakaai crater and the active volcano of Ol Doinyo Lengai are nearby.  The area is also of great significance in tracing the origins of mankind with excavations in the Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, resulting in discoveries of fossil remains of Homo habilis, and 3.5 million-year old human footprints.  As such, the area boasts the finest blend of landscapes, wildlife, people and archaeological sites in Africa.

A major ecological survey of the Serengeti Reserve(which then included Ngorongoro) by Dr. Bernard Grzimek and his son in the late 1950’s resulted in the establishment of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area(NCA) in 1959. It was established as a pioneering experiment in multiple land use where pastoralism, conservation and tourism could co-exist.It is the only conservation area in Tanzania providing protection status for wildlife whilst allowing human habitation. Land use is controlled to prevent negative effects on the wildlife population, as such, cultivation is prohibited at all but subsistence levels.

The area is part of the Serengeti ecosystem and, to the north-west, it adjoins the Serengeti National Park and is contiguous with the southern Serengeti plains, these plains also extend to the north into unprotected Loliondo division and are kept open to wildlife through transhumance pastoralism practiced by Maasai. The south and west of the area are volcanic highlands, including the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the lesser known Empakai. The southern and eastern boundaries are approximately defined by the rim of the Great Rift Valley wall, which also prevents animal migration in these directions. Because of these particular features and the harmonious co-existence between wildlife  and people that has existed for many years, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was accorded the status of World Heritage SIte and listed as one of the International Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Reserve  Programme.

Man and his ancestors have lived in the Ngorongoro ecosystem for more than 3 million years. Evidence of a regional hunter-gatherer culture dates back 17,000 years and it is clear that various tribes have migrated in and out of the area. By careful management and continuing research the fragile balance between man and nature is successfully sustained.

The Maasai arrived in Ngorongoro about 200 years ago and have since colonized the area in substantial numbers in excess of 42,000. During the rains they move out on to the open plains and in the dry season they move into the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes. The Maasai are allowed to take their animals into the Crater for water and grazing, but are not allowed to live and cultivate there. Elsewhere, the Maasai have the right to roam freely.

The jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep volcanic crater, which happens to be the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera(collapsed crater) in the world. The steep slopes of the caldera are dominated by scrubs and remains of dense montane forests, while open grassy plains, swamps and acacia trees occupy the plains of the crater.

The steep slopes of the crater have been providing protection and natural settings for wildlife such as elephants, while the crater floor has been home for more than 20,000 large mammals such as wildebeest, zebra, hyena, cheetah, rhinos, elephant, buffalo and lion which are supported by the availability of year round water patches and alkaline in Lake Magadi. The Lake is home for both greater and lesser flamingo accompanied by seasonal migrant birds who normally arrive here during the wet months.

WILDLIFE 

Around 25,000 animals(predominantly grazing animals) live in the crater throughout the year, whilst in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area the numbers can swell to 2.5 million, depending on the season. The annual ungulate migration of Serengeti migrants passes through the NCA, with wildebeest(1.7 million), gazelle(470,000) and zebra(260,000) moving south into the area in December and moving north in June. This movement changes seasonally with the rains, but the migration will traverse almost the entire plains in search of food. The NCA has a healthy resident population of most species of wildlife: in particular, the Ndutu Lake area to the west has strong cheetah and lion populations.Resident populations include wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, buffalo, eland, kongoni and warthog. The swamps and forest provide additional resources for hippo, elephant, waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck, baboons and vervet monkeys. The steep inner slopes  provide  a habitat for  and the rare mountain reedbuck. Jackals thrive in the crater and bat-eared foxes live in the short grass areas. Predatory animals such as lion, leopard, cheetah and serval cats live off the abundant wildlife and large packs of hyena roam the crater.

A few rare black rhinoceros are to be found in the Crater. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the few places in East Africa where visitors have a chance of seeing this truly magical creature. Lions and bull elephants are also abundant in the Crater with the bull elephants descending regularly to the Crater floor. The large breeding herds can be found wandering throughout the forest rim searching for food.

What you see of the birdlife depends greatly on the season of the year as there are resident and migratory birds. Resident birds are ostrich, bustard and plovers and can be seen year round. In the summer they share the Crater with European migrants such as white storks, yellow wagtails, swallows and many more. The migrants pass through from November through to May, coinciding with the rains in Africa and the winter in Eurasia. Other birds you can expect to see are flamingo, storks, ducks, stonechat, anteater chat, schalow’s wheeteater, fiscal shrike, auger buzzards, verreaux’s eagle and many other raptors.

GEOGRAPHY

The terrain embraces several distinct habitats from open grasslands to mountain forest, and from scrub bushland to highland heath. The area contains sites of paleontological and archaeological importance.

Two main geological rifts run through the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Nine volcanoes in the Ngorongoro highlands were formed during the past 4 million years. One of these volcanoes, Oldonyo Lengai(Swahili meaning is ‘Mountain of God’) is still active. Over millennia the ash and dust from each eruption has been carried by the winds to form the fertile soils of the Serengeti plains.

There are 9 craters  within the boundaries of the Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro Crater is a deep volcanic crater, which happens to be the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. The Ngorongoro crater is 19.2kms in diameter, 610m deep and 304 square kms in area.

CLIMATE

There is much variation in climate within the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area due to the altitude differences throughout the region. There is a dry season from June to October and a wet season from November to May. The wet season is divided into the ‘short rains’ from November to December, and the ‘long rains’ from February to May. It is often cloudy on the highlands and in summer it rains almost everyday. Ngorongoro’s annual rainfall varies from 450mm on the plains in the north-west to over 1600mm on the highlands.

Temperatures in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area vary from 3 degrees to 35 degrees. Frost occurs on the highest mountain tops and temperatures are always lower along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater than on its floor. The coldest months are from June to August.

WHEN TO VISIT

In the Ngorongoro Crater you can witness game at any time of the year.  During the rainy season the animals congregate on the short grass plains to have their young. In turn, this attracts large numbers of predators. Birds abound and wild flowers are in bloom. The rainstorms are dramatic and usually short lived. The cloud formations are compelling to watch as they develop with speed before exploding into a rainstorm.

The dry season also holds it’s own beauty. It is generally accepted that the dry season is a better time for game viewing because the animals are more concentrated along permanent water sources. Within the Crater game viewing is excellent during this time. However, keep in mind that the short grass plains become completely devoid of game during this season.

The southern and northern parts of the crater both have seasonal swamps that attract large amounts of hippo and many species of water birds. Thousands of buffalo roam on the eastern side of the crater where the long grasses are dominant.

Accommodation at Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Masek Tented Camp, Tanzania Safari, SafariHQ

Lake Masek Tented Camp

Discover exclusive luxury at Lake Masek Luxury Tented Camp situated in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area overlooking Lake Masek.

Ndutu Safari Lodge 4

Ndutu Safari Lodge

Surrounded by indigenous trees and shrubs which encourage a host of birds and mammals to come right to the front door. The lodge is tucked well away from the busy tourist circuit, offering peace and tranquility.

Olduvai Camp

Olduvai Camp

Olduvai Camp is a good base between January and March when the wildebeest migration is within the vicinity.

Optional Activities in Ngorongoro Conservation Area