What to see in Ngorongoro crater?

 People and Culture (Maasai)

There are approximately 42,000 Masai tribe members living within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. They live off the land, and move in accordance with the needs of their animals (cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys). For thousands of years a succession of cattle herding people moved into the Area, lived here for time, and then moved on, sometimes forced out by other tribes.

About 200 years ago, the Maasai arrived and have since colonized the Area in substantial numbers, their traditional way of life allowing them to live in harmony with the wildlife and the environment. Today there are some 42,200 Maasai pastoralists living in the NCA with their cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep. During the rains they move out on to the open plains; 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 not to live or cultivate there. Elsewhere in the NCA they have the right to roam freely.

Visitors are welcomed at two designated Maasai cultural bomas one on the road to Serengeti and another close to Sopa Lodge at Irkeepusi village. The Datoga, Nilo-Hamitic-speaking pastoralists, who arrived more than 300 years ago and were subsequently forced out of the Serengeti-Ngorongoro area by the Maasai, today they live just outside the NCA, in the Lake Eyasi basin and beyond.

One can visit the Maasai Cultural bomas in the NCA to learn more about their unique culture, to take photographs, and to buy souvenirs. There is an entrance fee to be paid but it is well worth it. Please be sensitive to the fact that it is considered bad manners to take photographs of people along the roadside without consent. A visit to one of the following is highly recommended that is, Kiloki senyati cultural boma is located on the main road to Serengeti, 7 km south-west of the Olduvai Gorge Information Center, Loonguku cultural boma, located on the main road to Serengeti, 10km before the turn-off to Olduvai Gorge Irkeepusi cultural boma Situated 2km north-east of Lemala mini gate, on the main road to Empakaai and Seneto cultural boma Situated just west of the Seneto Gate, within the Malanja Depression.

Olduvai Gorge

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area also protects Olduvai Gorge, situated in the plains area. It is considered to be the seat of humanity after the discovery of the earliest known specimens of the human genus, Homo habilis as well as early hominidae, such as Paranthropus boisei.

The Olduvai Gorge is a steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley, which stretches along eastern Africa. Oldupai is in the eastern Serengeti Plains in northern Tanzania and is about 50 kilometres (31 mi) long. It lies in the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands and is the driest part of the region. The gorge is named after ‘Oldupaai’, the Maasai word for the wild sisal plant, Sansevieria ehrenbergii.

It is one of the most important primitive sites in the world and research there has been instrumental in furthering understanding of early human evolution. Excavation work there was pioneered by Mary and Louis Leakey in the 1950s and is continued today by their family. Some believe that millions of years ago, the site was that of a large lake, the shores of which were covered with successive deposits of volcanic ash. Around 500,000 years ago seismic activity diverted a nearby stream which began to cut down into the sediments, revealing seven main layers in the walls of the gorge.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Encompassing three spectacular volcanic craters, the Olduvai Gorge, huge expanses of savannah, forest and bush land, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the top of Tanzania’s tourism industry. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), measuring 8,300 square kilometres, is also the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals co-exist 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, and Maasai cattle can sometimes be seen grazing alongside zebras on Ngorongoro’s grassland.

Animals at the Ngorongoro Crater

Approximately 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates, live in the crater. Large animals in the crater include the black rhinoceros, the local population of which declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995, the African buffalo or Cape buffalo, and the hippopotamus. There are also many other ungulates such as the blue wildebeests (7,000 estimated in 1994), Grant’s zebra, the common eland, and Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles (3,000). Waterbucks occur mainly near Lerai Forest. There are no topis, oribis, or crocodiles. Impala are absent because the open woodland they prefer does not exist. Giraffe also are absent, possibly because of a lack of browse species. Tanzanian cheetah, East African wild dog, and African leopard are rarely seen.

The area contains over 25,000 large animals including 26 black rhinoceros. There are 7,000 wildebeests, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 elands and 3,000 Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles. The crater also has the deepest known population of lions, numbering 62. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other felines.

The legendary annual wildebeest and zebra migration also passes through Ngorongoro, when the 1.7 million ungulates move south into the area in December then move out heading north in June. The migrants passing through the plains of the reserve include 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebras, and 470,000 gazelles. The Lake Ndutu area to the west has significant cheetah and lion populations. Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA. These include ostrich, white pelican, and greater and lesser flamingo on Lake Magadi within the crater, Lake Ndutu, and in the Empakaai Crater Lake, where a vast bird population can be observed. Ngorongoro also has two other volcanic craters that is 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 flamingoes.

Ngorongoro Crater is a can’t-miss destination in Tanzania which offers a classic Big 5 safari experience in the unique setting of an ancient volcanic caldera. The African black rhino, largest tusker elephants, Ngorongoro Crater Lions, leopards and buffalos are healthy available in the Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro Crater scenery is spectacular, predators are abundant and it’s not unusual to see the Big 5 in a single day. The Ngorongoro Crater is the obvious choice and the best place in Tanzania to see the Big Five. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most beautiful natural wildlife safari sites in the world and an exceptional place to interact with people from the Maasai tribe. Because of the variety of animals present, the Ngorongoro Crater is a well-known tourist attraction.

Ngorongoro Crater Lions

The Crater’s lions of Ngorongoro population varies significantly over time, the one constant being their complete disregard of vehicles, they will hunt within yards of a vehicle, and when exhausted even seek shade beside them. Ngorongoro Crater lions are known with its habit of climbing trees.

Spotted hyenas are even more common here, often competing with the lion, and there’s are a small but growing number of cheetah. Leopards are around, especially in the vicinity of the Lerai Forest. Side-striped and the lovely golden jackal are often seen skulking around, whilst bat-eared foxes are a rarer sight.

The crater has one of the heaviest known population of Masai lions, numbering 62 in 2001.A side effect of the crater being a natural enclosure is that the lion population is significantly inborn. This is due to the very small amount of new descents that enter the local gene pool, as very few migrating male lions enter the crater from the outside. Those who do enter the crater are often prevented from contributing to the gene pool by the crater’s male lions, who expel any outside competitors.

The park is teeming with wildlife, with animals such as zebra, buffalo, hyenas, wildebeests and lions thriving in the area. There are approximately 30,000 animals, though certain animals (e.g. giraffe and impala) are not present due to difficulties negotiating the crater rim cliffs and insufficient grazing opportunities.

Vegetation cover

Ngorongoro is home to lush green, rain-watered vegetation, as well as desert plants. The area has uncultivated lowland vegetation, arid and semi-arid plant communities, abundant short grass used for grazing, and highland forests. Scrub heath, grasslands, high open moorland, and the remains of dense evergreen forests cover the steep slopes of the crater, while highland trees including Peacock Flower, Yellow-Wood, Kousso (Hagenia abyssinica), and Sweet Olive can also be found. There are also extensive stretches of pure bamboo on Oldeani Mountain, and Pencil Cedar on Makarut Mountain to the west. Dove- weeds dominate the lower slopes, while the upland woodlands contain Red Thorn Acacia and Gum Acacia that are critical for protecting the watershed.

The crater basin is covered by open short grass plains with fresh and brackish water lakes, marshes, swamps, and two patches of Acacia woodland. The Lerai Forest is home to the Yellow Fever tree and Acacia, while Laiyanai Forest has Pillar Wood and Acacia Lahai. The undulating plains to the west are grass-covered with occasional Umbrella Acacia and Commiphora Africana trees. Blackthorn Acacia and Zebrawood 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.

Flamingos

Flamingos are very common at lakes in the NCA, all of which are saline. Flamingos are filter feeders and feed on plankton. Plankton is a collective name for microscopic plants and animals that occur in the mud and on the surface of shallow, saline lakes.

Information Center

An information center for the northern circuit is located along Boma Road in downtown Arusha. The Center provides detailed information on tourist attractions, facilities and activities available in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Most safaris depart from Arusha town and the information center is a must for visitors. Internet facilities are available. Promotional publications, wildlife books, cards, audio cassettes and CD-ROMs are also available.

Lake Magadi

The Munge Stream drains Olmoti Crater to the north, and is the main water source draining into the seasonal Salt Lake in the center of the crater. This lake is known by two names, Makat as the Maasai called it, meaning salt and Magadi. The Lerai Stream drains the humid forests to the south of the Crater, and it feeds the Lerai Forest on the crater floor – when there is enough rain, the Lerai drains into Lake Magadi as well. Extraction of water by lodges and NCA headquarters reduces the amount of water entering Lerai by around 25 percent.

The other major water source in the crater is the Ngoitokitok Spring, near the eastern crater wall. There is a picnic site here open to tourists and a huge swamp fed by the spring, and the area is occupied by hippopotamus, elephants, lions and many others. Many other small springs can be found around the crater’s floor, and these are important water supplies for the animals and local Maasai, especially during times of drought.

Following the recommendations of the ad hoc committee of scientists convened after the year 2000 drought, an ecological burning program was implemented in the crater, which entails annual or biannual controlled burns of up to 20 percent of the grasslands. Maasai are now permitted to graze their cattle within the crater, but must enter and exit daily.

Museum

Olduvai Gorge museum is a fascinating journey back in time to the very beginning of mankind. Realistic copies of the most important discoveries can be viewed with ease and after an interesting lecture on the work which has been carried out by scientists, guided tours of the sites can be taken with experienced NCA guides.

Empakaai Crater is a deep soda lake that shelters about half of the 6km wide. This caldera is much smaller, yet charming in its own way. You’ll often find thousands of flamingos in the shallows of the emerald lake giving it an outstanding pink color. The views from the rim over the Ngorongoro Crater to Ol Doinyo Lengai are thought to be some of the most remarkable in Africa on very clear days you can even see Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Natron.

Lake Magadi

The Munge Stream drains Olmoti Crater to the north, and is the main water source draining into the seasonal Salt Lake in the center of the crater. This lake is known by two names, Makat as the Maasai called it, meaning salt; and Magadi. The Lerai Stream drains the humid forests to the south of the Crater, and it feeds the Lerai Forest on the crater floor – when there is enough rain, the Lerai drains into Lake Magadi as well. Extraction of water by lodges and NCA headquarters reduces the amount of water entering Lerai by around 25 percent.

The other major water source in the crater is the Ngoitokitok Spring, near the eastern crater wall. There is a picnic site here open to tourists and a huge swamp fed by the spring, and the area is inhabited by hippopotamus, elephants, lions and many others. Many other small springs can be found around the crater’s floor, and these are important water supplies for the animals and local Maasai, especially during times of drought.

Following the recommendations of the ad hoc committee of scientists convened after the year 2000 drought, an ecological burning program was implemented in the crater, which entails annual or biannual controlled burns of up to 20 percent of the grasslands. Maasai are now permitted to graze their cattle within the crater, but must enter and exit daily.

The Olmoti Crater

This is the second crater which has a shallow base covered in grass. Here you should be able to see some of the Maasai tribe with their livestock as well as wild buffalos, reedbuck and eland. Crossing the crater is The Munge River which leads into a mesmerising waterfall which falls hundreds of metres.