Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The Ngorongoro conservation area is the largest separate conservation area, established in 1959. It covers about 8400 square kilometers, including the volcanic highlands. It is surrounded by Lake Manyara in the east, Lake Natron in the northeast and Lake Eyasi in the south. The area displays several natural features, including the craters, lakes, forests and the mountain.
Crater – Ngorongoro crater, Olmoti and Empakai crater
Lakes – Lake Natron, Lake Magadi Soda
Mountain – Oldonyo lengai (mountain of God) -Still active volcano.
Forest – Vast forested highlands and the famous Olduvai Gorge. It is Olduvai where anthropologist Dr. Leakey discovered the skull of the early man “Australopithecus”.
Ngorongoro Crater: This is the largest unbroken caldera in the world with an area of 260 square kilometers. The crater measures about 20 kms in diameter. Sometimes from the crater rim, the animals are within touching distance. The crater floor is full of big and small wild animals, most of which are resident mammals.
With its beautiful views, fascinating concentration of resident mammals and fantastic birds in the highland forests, the crater is named “The 8th Natural wonder of the world”. It was formed after a massive volcanic eruption.
One can visit the crater any time of the year, but the best season is from July to October and December to March. It can be reached by 4wd through the tarmac covered road from Arusha town to the Olduare gate. It is about 190km via Mto wa mbu and Karatu village.
The Ngorongoro Crater is often called ‘Africa’s Eden’ and the ‘8th National Wonder of the World’. A visit to the crater is a main draw card for tourists coming to Tanzania and a world-class attraction. Within the crater rim, large herds of zebra and wildebeest graze nearby while sleeping lions laze in the sun.
Size: 8,300 sq km.
Location: Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the eastern edge of the Serengeti.
Getting there: Drive from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire
What to do: Besides vehicle safaris to Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and surrounding attractions, take hiking treks through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
When to go: All year round.
December-July: To follow the wildebeest migration
June-October: To see predators
Accommodation: Two luxury lodges
Description: The Ngorongoro Crater is a sunken volcano, or better termed the largest intact volcanic caldera. The view from the crest of the crater will provide you with an expansive sight of the entire crater that spans 260 square kilometers.
The relationship between the Maasai tribe and the Ngorongoro eco-system is equally impressive. The Maasai herd their cattle into and out of the crater daily for water, leading their cattle to water alongside the “Big 5.”
The crater is relatively small and can often feel like there are a lot of vehicles, but it is still a must-see on most itineraries. One visit to the floor of the crater is usually enough, unless it is important to increase your chances of seeing a rhino in the Northern Parks.
Location: Northern circuit, 4 hours outside Arusha on the way to the Serengeti
Things 2 Do: Game-Drives, Hiking, Nature Walk, Visit a Maasai Boma, Visit Olduvai Gorge
Time: 1 half-day is usually enough to see the crater, not more than 2 half-days. The Ngorongoro Conservation Authority limits game-drives to half-days.
Animals: One of the few places you have a chance to spot rhinos. One can also find lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, hyenas, hippos, wildebeests, and ostriches
Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area
Area: 8,288 km^2
From the viewing point hundreds of meters above Ngorongoro Crater, the panorama spreads out in a vast arena. The hills rise smoothly from the Crater floor through the evergreen forest, and rain clouds cascade over the eastern rim. Zebra and wildebeest mix on the Crater floor along with some 50 lions, 400 spotted hyenas, grant and Thompson gazelles, various types of jackal, greater and lesser flamingo and many other species. In all, Ngorongoro has some 25,000 animals, making this the most intensive game-viewing area on earth.
Many archaeological and paleontological sites: Olduvai Gorge, Laetoli, Lake Ndutu
Olduvai Gorge & Laetoli Footprints
Olduvai Gorge is on the Serengeti’s eastern plains and physically in Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This site is strangely eerie as befits its ancient status. Here in 1959, Mary Leakey uncovered the skull of Zinjathropus or the “Nutcracker Man”.
The first European to have seen the Olduvai Gorge was a German butterfly collector, Professor Wilhelm Kattwinkle. In his notes in 1911, he described Olduvai as containing “the book of life” and took back to Berlin a considerable number of fossils, including the teeth of an extinct three-toed horse known as Hipparion.
Twenty-five miles to the southwest of Olduvai are the 3.6 million-year-old Laetoli footprints; the earliest of our forbears are known to have left.
Today, the Maasai people live and herd their livestock in the area they call Oldupai- after the endemic sisal that grows wild in the area. “Ol” means place and “dupai” means sisal.
Flora/Fauna: Grassland, lakes, swamp, woodland, heath, dense Montanan forest
Wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, black rhinoceros, lion, hartebeest, spotted hyena, hippopotamus, buffalo, elephant, mountain reed buck, leopard, serval, ostrich, kori bastard, papilio sjoestedti
Ngorongoro Crater National Park Overview
The Ngorongoro Crater is a world heritage site. It is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and is commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. The 2,000 feet high walls of the approximately 10-mile wide crater create a natural amphitheater for the densest populations of large animals anywhere. It is a microcosm of the vast Serengeti National Park, and in one day, it is possible to see a staggering array of East African wildlife including all the big carnivores.
The crater lives up to its infamous reputation with abundant and easily accessible wildlife and offers a reasonable chance to see lion, hyena or cheetah in action. The crater is truly awe-inspiring and will surely be one of the highlights of your safari. The rim of the Ngorongoro Crater ranges in altitude from about 7,000 feet to 8,000 feet. Down below, the relatively flat floor of the crater rests at an elevation of about 5,500 feet.
Ngorongoro Crater Wildlife Summary
The Ngorongoro Crater’s rich soils and abundant, year-round water provide an ideal habitat for a variety of animals. The crater is not a self-contained ecosystem and some animals do migrate in and out but only in small numbers. Most of the animals in the crater are resident and remain there year-round. There are approximately 20,000 large mammals at any given time within the crater walls.
Herbivores that you will likely encounter include elephant, black rhino, hippo, buffalo, eland, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, waterbuck, warthog, Grant’s gazelle and Thomson’s gazelle. Giraffe, impala and topi are strangely absent from the crater floor, though they are common in the nearby Serengeti. Although giraffes may find the descent into the Crater difficult, it is more likely that they are absent because there is not enough acacia to browse. It is not clear why topi or impala are missing. Primates include baboons and vervet monkeys.
Carnivores that you will likely encounter include lion, cheetah, hyena and jackal. Leopards, servals, bat-eared foxes and ratels are also resident within the crater but are much more elusive.
Ngorongoro Crater Wildlife Fluctuations
Over the past 40 years since the early 1960s when long-term studies began, the crater has undergone drastic changes. Wildebeest have historically made up at least half of the large animal population. However, their numbers have been declining since the 1970s. Alternatively, buffalo have been on the rise as wildebeest numbers have decreased. It is thought the departure of the Maasai and their livestock in the mid 1970s triggered this shift in wildebeest and buffalo populations. Maasai regularly burned the grass in the crater, creating fresh green grass for their cattle, which may have benefited the wildebeest. Now that the Maasai have departed, the grass is longer and coarser, favoring the buffaloes. This fluctuation in large herbivores may have lead to a decrease in lion and hyena numbers which in turn allowed cheetahs to thrive. The one thing that is for certain is that the Crater is truly a dynamic and an ever-changing ecosystem.
The Ngorongoro Crater Floor
The Ngorongoro Crater is sometimes called a microcosm of the Serengeti because there are five distinct habitats located in the relatively small area of the crater floor (100 square miles) that mirror the major habitats of its enormous neighbor, the Serengeti ecosystem (15,000 square miles). These habitats are as follows:
Lerai Forest is located in the southwestern section of the crater. Lerai is a Maasai word referring to the tall yellow barked acacias that dominate the forest. The forest is beautiful and is home to an array of animals including baboons, vervet monkeys, waterbucks and bushbucks. The forest is especially well-known for its small population of giant tusker bull elephants. Lerai Forest is also home to the only leopards in the crater. The leopards here are spotted on occasion but remain very much elusive. The best time to visit Lerai Forest is in the early morning.
In the central-western area is Lake Magadi (also known as Lake Makat), which plays host to thousands of migratory flamingos. The lake can be full of water or a dry expanse of white soda depending on the season. The southeastern and northwestern sections of the crater are home to two large seasonal swamps. These areas are excellent for hippo and many species of water birds.
Spread throughout the central area of the crater is the short grass plains. These plains are home to thousands of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle. In the eastern section of the Crater are the longer grasslands where thousands of buffalo roam. One of the smallest carnivores, the serval cat, is commonly found here in the tall grass.
Ngorongoro Crater Elephants
The elephants in the Ngorongoro Crater are very impressive and will be the largest you encounter on your safari. All the elephants are predominately old bulls, flaunting giant ivory tusks. These elephants survived the pre-ivory ban days in the 1980s when many large tuskers outside the relative safety of the crater were poached. There are no breeding herds in the crater and no females are known to inhabit the crater floor. The best time to see these massive elephants is in the early morning in Lerai Forest.
Ngorongoro Crater Black Rhinos
Black Rhinos are highly endangered and have been poached to near extinction. The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the last places in Tanzania where you can still reliably see wild black rhinos. In 1965 there were 100 rhinos in the crater. By the mid 1980s, poaching had reduced the population to just a couple of remaining animals. The rhinos are now under 24-hour ranger watch and numbers have been increasing, though slowly because of their long gestation period. As of 2004, the number of rhinos in the crater stood at 17. The only other spot to see rhinos in northern Tanzania is the Moru Kopjes area of the Serengeti, which as of 2004, was home to 12 rhinos. However, the rhinos in the Moru area are very difficult to see.
The black rhinos are regularly seen just east of Lerai Forest, specifically in the area between Lerai and Gorigor Swamp. It is likely that you will see one on a single game-drive; with two separate game drives, your chances are very good. The best way to track down the rhinos is on an early AM game drive, which all of our safaris incorporate. Once down on the floor in the early morning, head immediately through Lerai Forest to its eastern outskirts. The rhinos usually spend the night in Lerai Forest and the move from the area immediately to the east in early morning.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the second best place in Tanzania (perhaps all of Africa) to view the large carnivores. The Serengeti is significantly better for large carnivores but nothing can simply compete with the Serengeti. Lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, serval, ratel, jackal and bat eared fox all inhabit the Ngorongoro Crater. Lions, cheetahs, hyenas and jackals can usually be spotted but the other predators are much more elusive. As of 2004, it was estimated that there are 25-30 lions, 10-12 cheetahs and 50-60 hyenas inhabiting the Ngorongoro Crater. Note that these numbers do not include any cubs but refer strictly to adults which are much easier to estimate. There are four prides of lions and six clans of hyenas on the crater floor. It is interesting to note that all of today’s crater lions are descended from only 15 lions that either survived or invaded the crater after the plague of biting flies in 1961.