The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) boasts the finest blend of landscapes, wildlife, people and archaeological sites in Africa.</span>It's a unique place on this planet, awarded World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve status. The whole area covers 8,292sq km and ranges in altitude from 1,020m to 3.587m. It is a unique place on this planet.
The jewel in Ngorongoro's crown is a deep volcanic crater - the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world - 19.2 km in diameter, 610m deep and 304 sq km in area. The rich pasture and permanent water of the Crater floor supports a large resident population of wildlife of up to 25,000 - predominantly grazing - animals. These include wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, buffalo, eland, kongoni and warhog. The wamps and forest provide additional resources for hippo, elephant, waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck, baboons and velvet monkeys. The steep inner slopes provide a habitat for dikdik and the rare mountain reedbuck. Jackals thrive in the crater and bat-eared foxes live in the short grass areas. Predatory animals - lion, leopard, cheetah, serval cats - live off the abundant wildlife and large packs of hyena roam the crater. The Crater is a dynamic and constantly changing ecosystem.
Culture in the Crater.
About two hundred years ago the Maasai arrived and have since colonized the area in substantial numbers. Their traditional way of life allows them to live in harmony with the wildlife and the environment. Today there are some 42,000 Maasai pastoralists living in the area with their cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep. The Maasai take their animals into the Crater for water and grazing but do not live or cultivate there - they can roam freely elsewhere in the conservation area.
Beyond the Crater the whole area is fascinating. Beyond the Ngorongoro crater you are allowed to leave the car, have a picknick, visit a Maasai village or take a walk. Olmoti and Embakaai Craters are noted for their beauty and solitude. The Gol Mountains and the Northern Highland Forest Reserve are good places for a hike. The Shifting Sands are a remarkable black dune composed of volcanic ash from Oldonyo Lengai mountain, moving without apparent reason. There's a lot to see. Some of the area's attractions can be visited en route to Serengeti, others will require a special visit.
Hominides in Laetoli and Olduvai Gorge at Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock. The footprints are 3.6 million years old and belong to one of the earliest upright-walking hominides on earth, the Australopithecus afarensis. The imprints are displayed in the Olduvai museum.
More hominids were found further north, buried in the layers of the 100 metre-deep Olduvai Gorge. Excavations, mainly by the archaeologists Mary and Louis Leakey, yielded four kinds of hominid showing a gradual increase in brain size and complexity of their stone tools. The most famous skull found here belongs to Zinjathropus, known as 'Nutcracker Man'. He lived about 1.75 million years ago. The excavation sites are open to the public.
One of the world's most amazing sights is the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of plains animals in a clockwise direction through the Ngorongoro area into the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara before going back into Ngorongoro again in search of fresh grazing and water. The animals usually move out of Ngorongoro around May when the Serengeti receives its rainfall and start returning to Ngorongoro around late November.
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