Standing Proudly in Ngorongoro Conservation area of Tanzania is the Ngorongoro crater. This highly visited African attraction is the World’s largest inactive unbroken and unfilled volcanic caldera.
Approximately 40000 people live in the conservation area, they share the land with an incredible amount of wildlife. The Ngorongoro crater was formed when a Large Volcano erupted and collapsed on itself, this explosion created a caldera approximately two and a half million years ago.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing, it includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera. The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation due to the presence of globally threatened species, the density of wildlife inhabiting the area, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals into the northern plains. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (809,440 ha) spans vast expanses of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests, from the plains of the Serengeti National Park in the north-west, to the eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley. The area was established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, with wildlife coexisting with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practising traditional livestock grazing. It includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera, and Olduvai Gorge, a 14km long deep ravine. The property has global importance for biodiversity conservation in view of the presence of globally threatened species such as the black Rhino, the density of wildlife inhabiting the Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding areas throughout the year, and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles and other ungulates into the northern plains.
The area has been subject to extensive archaeological research for over 80 years and has yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, collectively extending over a span of almost four million years to the early modern era. This evidence includes fossilized footprints at Laetoli, associated with the development of human bipedalism, a sequence of diverse, evolving hominin species within Olduvai gorge, which range from Australopiths such as Zinjanthropus boisei to the Homo lineage that includes Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo sapiens; an early form of Homo sapiens at Lake Ndutu; and, in the Ngorongoro crater, remains that document the development of stone technology and the transition to the use of iron. The overall landscape of the area is seen to have the potential to reveal much more evidence concerning the rise of anatomically modern humans, modern behavior and human ecology.
Criterion (iv): Ngorongoro Conservation Area has yielded an exceptionally long sequence of crucial evidence related to human evolution and human-environment dynamics, collectively extending from four million years ago to the beginning of this era, including physical evidence of the most important benchmarks in human evolutionary development. Although the interpretation of many of the assemblages of Olduvai Gorge is still debatable, their extent and density are remarkable. Several of the type fossils in the hominin lineage come from this site. Furthermore, future research in the property is likely to reveal much more evidence concerning the rise of anatomically modern humans, modern behavior and human ecology.
Criterion (vii): The stunning landscape of Ngorongoro Crater combined with its spectacular concentration of wildlife is one of the greatest natural wonders of the planet. Spectacular wildebeest numbers (well over 1 million animals) pass through the property as part of the annual migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti ecosystem and calve in the short grass plains which straddle the Ngorongoro Conservation Area/Serengeti National Park boundary. This constitutes a truly superb natural phenomenon.
Criterion (viii): Ngorongoro crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world. The crater, together with the Olmoti and Empakaai craters are part of the eastern Rift Valley, whose volcanism dates back to the late Mesozoic / early Tertiary periods and is famous for its geology. The property also includes Laetoli and Olduvai Gorge, which contain an important palaeontological record related to human evolution.
Criterion (ix): The variations in climate, landforms and altitude have resulted in several overlapping ecosystems and distinct habitats, with short grass plains, highland catchment forests, savanna woodlands, montane long grass plains and high open moorlands. The property is part of the Serengeti ecosystem, one of the last intact ecosystems in the world which harbours large and spectacular animal migrations.
Criterion (x): Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to a population of some 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates, alongside the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa including the densest known population of lion (estimated 68 in 1987). The property harbours a range of endangered species, such as the Black Rhino, Wild hunting dog and Golden Cat and 500 species of birds. It also supports one of the largest animal migrations on earth, including over 1 million wildebeest, 72,000 zebras and c.350,000 Thompson and Grant gazelles.
The property was inscribed under natural criteria (vii), (viii), (ix) and (x) in 1979 and under cultural criterion (iv) in 2010. Thus, the statement of integrity reflects integrity for natural values at the date of inscription of 1979, and for the cultural value in 2010.
In relation to natural values, the grasslands and woodlands of the property support very large animal populations, largely undisturbed by cultivation at the time of inscription. The wide-ranging landscapes of the property were not impacted by development or permanent agriculture at the time of inscription. The integrity of the property is also enhanced by being part of Serengeti – Mara ecosystem. The property adjoins Serengeti National Park (1,476,300 ha), which is also included on the World Heritage List as a natural property. Connectivity within and between these properties and adjoining landscapes, through functioning wildlife corridors is essential to protect the integrity of animal migrations. No hunting is permitted in Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), but poaching of wildlife is a continuing threat, requiring effective patrolling and enforcement capacity. Invasive species are a source of ongoing concern, requiring continued monitoring and effective action if detected. Tourism pressure is also of concern, including in relation to the potential impacts from increased visitation, new infrastructure, traffic, waste management, disturbance to wildlife and the potential for introduction of invasive species.
The property provides grazing land for semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists. At the time of inscription an estimated 20,000 Maasai were living in the property, with some 275,000 head of livestock, which was considered within the capacity of the reserve. No permanent agriculture is officially allowed in the property. Further growth of the Maasai population and the number of cattle should remain within the capacity of the property, and increasing sedentarisation, local overgrazing and agricultural encroachment are threats to both the natural and cultural values of the property. There were no inhabitants in Ngorongoro and Empaakai Craters or the forest at the time of inscription in 1979.
The property encompasses not only the known archaeological remains but also areas of high archaeo-anthropological potential where related finds might be made. However the integrity of specific paleo-archaeological attributes and the overall sensitive landscape are to an extent under threat and thus vulnerable due to the lack of enforcement of protection arrangements related to grazing regimes, and from proposed access and tourist related developments at Laetoli and Olduvai Gorge.
In general, the authenticity of the fossil localities is unquestionable, however given the nature of fossil sites, the context for the fossil deposits needs to remain undisturbed (except by natural geological processes). As the nomination dossier does not contain sufficient detailed information on most of the sites to delineate their extended areas or the areas of archaeological sensitivity, or sufficient guarantees in terms of management arrangements to ensure that the sites will remain undisturbed and not threatened by visitor access, construction or grazing cattle, their authenticity is vulnerable.
Protection and management requirements
The primary legislation protecting the property is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Ordinance of 1959. The property is under the management of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA). The Division of Antiquities is responsible for the management and protection of the paleo-anthropological resources within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. A memorandum of understanding should be established and maintained to formally establish the relations between the two entities.
Property management is guided by a General Management Plan. Currently, the primary management objectives are to conserve the natural resources of the property, protect the interests of the Maasai pastoralists, and to promote tourism. The management system and the Management Plan need to be widened to encompass an integrated cultural and natural approach, bringing together ecosystem needs with cultural objectives in order to achieve a sustainable approach to conserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the management of grasslands and the archaeological resource, and to promote environmental and cultural awareness. The Plan needs to extend the management of cultural attributes beyond social issues and the resolution of human-wildlife conflicts to the documentation, conservation and management of the cultural resources and the investigation of the potential of the wider landscape in archaeological terms.
It is particularly important that NCAA has the capacity and specialist skills to ensure the effectiveness of its multiple-use regime, including knowledge of management of pastoral use in partnership with the Maasai community and other relevant stakeholders. There is also a need for NCAA to ensure staff have skills in natural and cultural heritage to achieve well designed, integrated and effective conservation strategies, including effective planning of tourism, access and infrastructure.
A thorough understanding of the capacity of the property to accommodate human use and livestock grazing is required, based on the needs of the Maasai population and the assessment of the impact of the human populations on the ecosystems and archaeology of the property. An agreed joint strategy between the NCAA, Maasai community leaders as well as other stakeholders, is required to ensure human population levels, and levels of resource use are in balance with the protection of its natural and cultural attributes, including in relation to grazing and grassland management, and the avoidance of human-wildlife conflict. The active participation of resident communities in decision-making processes is essential, including the development of benefit-sharing mechanisms to encourage a sense of ownership of, and responsibility for, the conservation and sustainable use of the property’s natural and cultural resources.
An overall tourism strategy for the property is a long term requirement, to both guide the public use of the property and ways of presenting the property, and to prioritize the quality of the tourism experience, rather than the quantity of visitors and tourism facilities. Vehicle access to the crater and other popular areas of the property requires clear limits to protect the quality of experience of the property and to ensure natural and cultural attributes are not unduly disturbed. Developments and infrastructure for tourism or management of the property that impinge on its natural and cultural attributes should not be permitted.
Considering the important relationship, in natural terms of the property to adjoining reserves, it is important to establish effective and continuing collaboration between the property, Serengeti National Park, and other areas of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem to assure connectivity for wildlife migrations, and harmonize management objectives regarding tourism use, landscape management and sustainable development.
Northern Tanzania Safari should ideally include a visit to Ngorongoro Crater: it 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.
The Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding highlands together form one of Africa’s most beautiful regions. Volcanic craters form stunning backdrops to some of the most fertile and richest grazing grounds in Africa. The most famous such crater is without question Ngorongoro, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and home to the highest density of big game in Africa. Ngorongoro is justifiably one of the continent’s most famous safari destinations.
Driving from Arusha. Depending on your party size, it may be cheaper for you to all share a private vehicle and guide from when you are picked up from your international flight at Kilimanjaro Airport all the way until you fly out of the Ngorongoro region. If you are driving, it is essential to have a night either side of your crater descent either in a camp on the crater rim, or a 20 minute drive away in the Ngorongoro Highlands. This means you can get to the gates early to avoid the crowds! Flying from Arusha. If you are staying at a “fly in” camp which means your guide and vehicle are provided by your camp, and not by a ground handler from Arusha, you can fly into Lake Manyara airstrip, and get picked up by the camp. This can be a good idea if there are less people in your party, making flying cheaper than driving in a private vehicle from Arusha. It is also essential for some camps which are usually the more luxurious ones owned by excellent safari companies such as Nomad’s Entamanu or The Highlands Asila.
Since the wildlife mainly stays in the crater all year round, there is really no good or bad time to visit. However given that the crater floor does get busy with vehicles, it can be more pleasant to visit during low season. Higher water levels in Lake Magadi (in the centre of the Crater) also result in higher concentrations of flamingos. Whenever you visit to Ngorongoro, you are guaranteed excellent safari action. The beauty of an Ngorongoro safari is because of its unique micro-climate, it can be enjoyed year round.