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The Ngorongoro Crater – A Natural Wildlife Treasure

The Ngorongoro Crater is a must-see destination on your Tanzania safari.  The Ngorongoro Crater is located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a region within the Serengeti ecosystem just south of Serengeti National Park.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Ngorongoro is referred to as a conservation area, and not a national park.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, the wildlife coexist within the protected land along side the semi-nomadic pastoralist Maasai tribe. The conservation area includes the Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu (where the wildebeest deliver their calves in February and March), and Olduvai Gorge (the cradle of mankind). The conservation area was developed in response to indigenous people being translocated to this region when the Serengeti was established as a national park.

As opposed to a national park, land within the conservation area is designated multi-use. This is unique because it is the only conservation area in Tanzania – promoting wildlife protection while allowing humans to live within its boundaries. The NCAA (Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority) oversees land use in order to limit negative effects on the local wildlife population. Cultivation of crops is prohibited beyond what is needed for subsistence.  Hunting of any kind is not permitted within the conservation area.

Ngorongoro Crater: A wildlife mecca

Located in Tanzania’s northern safari circuit, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the most spectacular wildlife meccas in Africa, if not the entire world. It is a must see location for anyone taking a trip to Tanzania. No where else in Africa is there such a dense population of wildlife in such a scenic location due to the protected habitat, rich soil and abundant water supply.  The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera.

What does that mean?  The crater was formed over 2 million years ago when an ancient volcano, reported to rival the height of Mt Kilimanjaro, erupted and collapsed into the earth.  What remains is a huge crater, with walls 2000 feet (610 meters) high 360 degrees around the circumference of the crater.  Rim to rim the crater measures 10 and 12 miles (16 and 19 km) across and has an area of 102 square miles (264 square km).  If you compare this to the Grand Canyon as a frame of reference, which is 1 mile (5280 feet) deep, 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. This creates a protected environment for the resident wildlife which stay in the crater year-round.  Over 25,000 animals reside within the rim of the crater year-round.

What animals can be seen in the crater?  The crater abounds with wildlife – you can see lions, elephants, zebra, Cape buffalo, wildebeest, hyena, eland and gazelle in huge numbers.  The crater does not have giraffe, as the walls of the crater are too steep from them to survive the descent, but you will see them along the rim.  There is a hippopotamus pool in the crater.  Probably one of the most fascinating finds in the crater is the black rhinoceros, a mammal that is endangered due to poaching.  This location gives you one of the best chances to see black rhinos in the wild.

Not only are mammals seen in high numbers, but because of both fresh and alkaline lakes present in the crater, birding is really good here.  With over 500 documents bird species, you can have a full day studying just the birds within the crater!

Other Attractions around the Ngorongoro Crater

Olduvai Gorge

Located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is one of the world’s more important paleoanthropological sites.  The Great Rift Valley travels through Tanzania and within a steep ravine is Olduvai Gorge– where the Leakey’s and other explorers discovered evidence of some of the early man as well as many tools used by those inhabiting this region.


Ndutu is probably one of the most unknown locations in this ecosystem.  Some people refer to it as the Southern Serengeti.  While it is the southern most park of the Serengeti ecosystem, it is not located within Serengeti National Park.  Instead it is within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  We have covered Ndutu is detail in another post but some of the highlight of Ndutu include that this is where wildebeest calving takes place from January-early March.  In addition, off road safari is permitted in Ndutu, allowing you to get closer to the action!

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