The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of the Arusha Region.
History and geography:
The name of the crater has an onomatopoeic origin; it was named by the Maasai pastoralists after the sound produced by the cowbell (ngoro ngoro). Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, various hominid species have occupied the area for 3 million years.
Hunter-gatherers were replaced by pastoralists a few thousand years ago. The Mbulu came to the area about 2,000 years ago and were joined by the Datooga around the year 1700. Both groups were driven from the area by the Maasai in the 1800s.
No Europeans are known to have set foot in the Ngorongoro Crater until 1892, when it was visited by Oscar Baumann. Two German brothers (Adolph and Friedrich Siedentopf) farmed in the crater until the outbreak of World War I, after leasing the land from the administration of German East Africa. The brothers regularly organized shooting parties to entertain their German friends. They also attempted to drive the wildebeest herds out of the crater.
The main feature of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610 metres (2,000 feet) deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres (100 square miles). Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 4,500 to 5,800 metres (14,800 to 19,000 feet) high. The crater floor is 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) above sea level. The crater was voted by Seven Natural Wonders as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in Arusha, Tanzania in February 2013. The Ngorongoro volcano was active from about 2.45 to 2 million years ago.
The volcanic eruptions like that of Ngorongoro, which resulted in the formation of Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, were very common. Similar collapses occurred in the case of Olmoti and Empakaai, but they were much smaller in magnitude and impact.
Out of the two recent volcanoes to the northeast of the Empakaai caldera, Kerimasi and Ol Doinyo Lengai, Doinyo Lengai is still active and had major eruptions in 2007 and 2008. Smaller ash eruptions and lava flows continue to slowly fill the current crater. Its name is Maasai language for ‘Mountain of God’
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area also protects Olduvai Gorges , 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. Olduvai 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 prehistoric 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.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area has one of the densest known population of lions, numbering 62 in 2001. Approximately 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates, live in the crater. Large mammals (The Big Five) in the crater include the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli), the local population of which declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11–14 in 1995, the African buffalo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). There also are many other ungulates: the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) (7,000 estimated in 1994), Grant’s zebra (Equus quagga boehmi) (4,000), the common eland (Taurotragus oryx), and Grant’s (Nanger granti) and Thomson’s gazelles (Eudorcas thomsonii) (3,000).Waterbucks (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) occur mainly near Lerai Forest.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus raineyi), East African wild dog (Lycaon pictus lupinus), and African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) are rarely seen. Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) have been the subject of a long-term research study in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area since 1996.
Absent are giraffe, impala (Aepyceros melampus), topi (Damaliscus lunatus), oribi (Ourebia oribi), crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus).