Ngorongoro Conservation Area
hen you reach the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, an overwhelming view of a 260 km² large caldera opens up. Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, this huge basin is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world – formed by a huge volcano that erupted and collapsed into itself about 2 million years ago. With an average altitude difference of about 610 meters, it serves as a ‘natural enclosure’ for a variety of wildlife; due to the steep walls, most animals stay here all year round. The crater is an extraordinary place, almost like an interactive zoo. Since most of the animals never leave the sanctuary, they are not afraid of people, which allows a very special and direct view of the animals.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of the few places in the world to observe the endangered black rhino in the wild. The Conservation Area is home to the entire Big Five.
Facts and Figures
Area: 8.292 km²
Travel: 180 km from Arusha
Visitors: 580.000 / year
Known for: Ngorongoro Caldera, rhino, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Activities: Crater Game Drive, Olduvai Gorge Visit, Forest Hikes
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
The crater area covers an area of about 250 square kilometres, the diameter of the crater is about 20 kilometres. From the crater rim to the crater floor there are about 650 meters of altitude. It is unbelievable what can be found in this area: Savannah and swamp areas, rivers, forests, small hills and the soda lake, which is called Lake Magadi here. Herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and gazelles run around on the crater floor. The crater area is home to about 20,000 large mammals – buffalo, zebra, antelope, elephant etc. etc. There are over 100 lions and more than 400 spotted hyenas. But also the cattle of the Maasai living here are led down to the lake for watering. The Ngorongoro Crater is not a crater in the true sense. Geomorphologically it is a caldera, which means that after its last eruption its crater cone collapsed in the middle after the lava flowed out and formed this enormous crater bowl. It is the sixth largest caldera on the mainland of the Earth.
On the road up to the edge of the caldera one crosses dense forest and finally reaches the pyramid-shaped memorial stone for Michael Grzimek and his father, Prof. Bernhard Grzimek. Michael Grzimek had crashed fatally with his plane during the shooting of the world-famous film “Die Serengeti darf nicht sterben” or just “Serengeti” in 1959 during an exploratory flight. The memorial plaques bear the following inscription:
12.4.1934 – 10.1.1959
“He gave all he possessed including his life for the wild animals of Africa.”
PROFESSOR BERNHARD GRZIMEK
1909 – 1987
“A lifetime caring for wild animals and their place on our planet. It is better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.”
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) covers about 8,300 km². It offers the best mix of landscapes, wildlife, people and archaeological sites in Africa. It is also an interesting experiment in multiple land usage. The concept of multiple land use from a conservation perspective differs from a traditional approach where conservation is seen as a complete absence of human intervention.
Cracks and volcanoes characterize the landscape of the Ngorongoro Crater. A crack is a disturbance in the earth’s crust that causes the boundaries to rise or fall. Cracks also cause lava or molten rock to penetrate to the surface and harden there. When lava emerges from the same spot over a longer period of time, it builds up into a volcano. In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the main cracks are north of Lake Eyasi and east of Lake Manyara and Lake Natron, where the nine volcanoes of the Ngorongoro Highlands have formed over the past four million years. Of these only the Oldonyo Lengai volcano is still active. The ash and dust of the eruptions formed the basis for the fertile soils of the Serengeti Plain.
The crater floor is also the habitat of a large number of birds. The Rock Buzzard, which looks for prey from a high vantage point or circles over the Lerai forest, is one of the larger birds. Helmeted guinea fowls, crested guinea fowls and Hildebrandt’s francolins are also among the more frequently sighted chicken birds. The hornbills with their large banana beaks cannot be overlooked again. In this area they also live on fruits and insects. The most widespread species of hornbill is the yellow-billed Hornbill. Both in the grass savannah and in the bush land, the metallically shiny three-coloured starling, one of the most photographed birds in East Africa, can be found. Other photogenic birds here are the nectar birds, which also buzz in the crater over bushes and flowers. In the crater there are also larger savannah birds such as the ostrich and the giant bustard. This stately bitd reaches a size of about 1.30 meters. It lives in pairs and looks for its food on the ground. The family of the bustards is not related to the henbirds, but to the cranes. The beautiful crown cranes can be seen strutting around the crater (mostly in pairs). Less pretty, but just as interesting are the vultures again. Most often you can see the white-backed vultures in the grass savannah again, when they feast on the remains of a lion’s meal. The ostrich is the only flightless bird that is native to Africa and it is the largest bird in the world. The male has black and white feathers, neck and legs are flesh-coloured, but during the breeding season these parts of the body are bright pink. Females and young are greyish brown. A cock gathers several hens around it (one main hen and many side hens) and all these hens lay their eggs in the same nest. The side hens, however, do not participate in breeding or in raising the young. Only the cock and the main hen are responsible for this. The nest is incubated during the day by the main hen. At night the ostrich cock sits on the eggs. After hatching, mum and dad then carry their young around with them for many months. Ostriches are also the fastest bipeds in the world. They can reach a speed of 70 kilometers per hour in a matter of seconds. They are mainly herbivores, but do not spurn large locusts and lizards.
North of the Seneto springs are the so-called goose ponds. These are a whole series of shallow freshwater ponds of an extensive marshland where all kinds of water and marsh birds live. This area is also known for its occurrence of serval cats. They love to hunt in this swamp area. Also lions and hyenas are often seen here. They come here to drink or attack from the ambush, for example when a zebra wants to quench his thirst at the pond.
The swampy Lerai forest is a small forest of fever acacias. Even from a distance you will notice that single standing acacias are covered with hundreds of weaver bird nests. The wedding dress of the males is bright red or yellow-black, they are popular house birds. In this acacia forest you can observe very old elephant bulls living as loners. They are proudly 70 to 80 years old. With this they have almost reached their maximum age. Also smaller herds of bachelors are here on migration. Maybe they are just about to bark the acacia trees with their tusks again or break down large branches.
Near the Lerai forest you sometimes see black rhinos grazing on the savannah. Rhinos are loners and very good runners. A startled animal attacks its opponent at a speed of up to 40 kilometres per hour. Since they were pursued and slaughtered by poachers because of their horn, only about 13 specimens of them are left in the crater. In the Far East the demand for horns of these animals as an aphrodisiac is almost inexhaustible. The aphrodisiac effect of the horn has never been proven. Here again, as so often, it is pure superstition. The horn of the rhinoceros is not a real horn, by the way, but consists of many thick hairs grown together. In earlier times, there were hundreds of rhinos that populated the crater floor. Although the population has now become extremely small, it has stabilised to some extent. Poachers are being dealt with very severely. If caught red-handed, they are shot without trial.