A UNESCO protected world heritage site and an international biosphere reserve, the Ngorongoro conservation area is situated some 190km, west of Arusha, between lake Manyara and Serengeti national parks. Covering approximately 8,292sq.km, the Ngorongoro conservation area consists of the Ngorongoro crater itself, the Olduvai gorge and Ndutu, the Empakai crater and the Oldonyo Lengai mountain.
The Ngorongoro conservation area is a pioneering experiment in multi-purpose land use where people (the Maasai), their livestock and wildlife coexist and share the same protected habitat. Wild animals are protected as in the national parks. The craters of Ngorongoro and Empakai are reserved exclusively for wildlife, while the rest of the conservation area is shared by wildlife, people and livestock.
The Maasai, the main residents of Ngorongoro, are pastoralists who move widely with their herds of cattle, sheep, goat, and donkeys in search of pasture and water. In recent years the Maasai have been encouraged to work on the land and supplement their traditional diet of milk and meat.
The Ngorongoro crater, which is the central attraction in the area, is the largest caldera in the world that has its walls intact. The Ngorongoro crater floor, a sheer drop of 610m below the crater rim, has an area of 304sq.km, with a diameter of 19km. The sight of the Ngorongoro crater is simply stunning. ‘’There is nothing with which to compare. It is one of the wonders of the world…’’ once wrote professor Bernard Grzimek.
The crater floor is home to tens of thousands of plains animals, including wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, elands and a large predator population of lions, hyena and jackal which can all be viewed at close quarters. The rare black rhino can be viewed here, and if you are lucky you can see cheetah and leopard. The rainy season is between November and May. The altitude at the crater rim is about 2286m above sea level, and temperatures can get quite chilly in the evening, especially between May to September.
Ndutu is located in the Ngorongoro conservation area, in the southeastern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem. The plains around Ndutu are the main holding ground for migratory animals where vast herds congregate and linger for more than four months, from December to April, before they start moving across the Serengeti in search of greener pastures and water. Ndutu area forms an important part of the Serengeti ecosystem, in particular the short grass plains which provide calving grounds for wildebeest and other migratory animals.
The Olduvai gorge, popularly referred to as ‘’The cradle of humankind’’, is the site where in 1959 Dr. Louis Leakey discovered the skull of Zinjanthropus or ‘’Nutcracker man’’ believed to have lived 1.75 million years ago. Later reclassified as Australopithecus boisei, this creature had a massive skull though small brained (500 cc) with huge teeth. Several months later Dr. Leakey found another fossil hominid in the same layer of excavation, called homo habilis or ‘’handy man’’, smaller than the ‘’Nutcracker man’’ but with a larger brain (600 cc) and capable of making simple stone tools.