Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater TanzaniaNgorongoro Crater image courtesy:

A crater that is not

Ngorongoro is often described as the world’s largest volcanic crater; it is in fact it the world’s largest unbroken and unflooded volcanic ‘caldera’. It was formed 3 million years back when a giant volcano of about 19,000 meters in height collapsed as the magma beneath it exploded. Normally a crater is the vent on the top of the volcano through which magma flows out; whereas when it blows out beneath the ground; the whole volcano collapses down and the magma that escaped forms a ring around the place where the volcano stood. The place where the ill fated volcano stood becomes a caldera; easily mistaken for a giant crater.


Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania MapNgorongoro Crater image courtesy:

The Ngorongoro ‘crater’ (volcanic caldera to be precise) is located in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) about 160 meters west to Arusha Town in Tanzania It is located between three lakes like Eyasi, Natron and Manyara and more than three national parks (Serengeti, Masai Mara, Arusha, Tarangire). There two more landmarks in the vicinity the king of all dormant volcanoes the mighty Kilimanjaro Peak located at the distant east and the great Lake Victoria in the north.

The Lakes

There three lakes in its vicinity and one at the center of the crater they are as follows;

Lake Eyasi, it is in the southwest part of the East African Rift Valley, the southwest flanks drain in to the northeast corner of this rectangular lake; it is shallow due to sedimentation. All these lakes are rich in bird population and favorite locations of bird watchers.

Lake Natron located in the southwest of Masai land and Northern Masai Steppe (the present Ngorongoro Conservation Area); much noted for its animals (Thomson’s gazelle, white bearded wildebeest etc) and birds (fringe eyed Oryx, lesser kudu etc).

Lake Manyara, it part of the Manyara National Park located southeast part of Ngorongoro. This park is famous for tree climbing lions and all sorts of big animals and extremely rich in bird population; it is home to about 380 species of birds like flamingoes, crowned eagles, herons, ant-eater, many types of waterfowls etc.

Lake Makat and rivulets Munge and Lerai

Lake Makat (also called Magadi means salt in Maa language) is one small lake at the center of the crater which gains area during rainy season (magadi in Maa -the language of Masai tribe -mean salt). The deposition of volcanic ash has made this lake extremely salty. During rainy season as the Munge (a rivulet) drains water from the Olamati Crater in to it; this rivulet serves as the life giver of the valley as the number of animals that depend upon it is numerous. There is one more stream by name Lerai that drains to the forests located south of the crater.

Ngorongoro Crater Stats

Ngorongoro Crater TanzaniaNgorongoro Crater image courtesy:

The bottom of this giant ‘cauldron’ (word caldera in Spanish means cauldron) is 610 meter deep from its rim and it is 260 sq km in area. Rainfall in the valley varies between 80 and 120 cms. The western ridge of the crater is less steep and more arid with patches of thorny bushes here and there. This area receives lesser rainfall (40 to 60 cms). Animals like elephant, lion, zebra, rhinoceros, leopard, buffalo and the ubiquitous wildebeests form the major part of the animal population (altogether they are 25,000 in number. Along with so many of these animals in perfect harmony there live the Masai Tribes.

Masai Tribes, the real heroes of Ngorongoro

The Masai is the most popular among the African tribes; one reason may be that they live in these game areas not doing any harm to the wild animals and catch the attention of cameramen. They are much more than that; they are protectors of these wild animals and don’t eat their flesh.

They are undoubtedly the most fiercely independent tribes in the world; in the long history; no man could ever enslave a Masai; they lived life on their own style and terms compelling slave hunters to look elsewhere.

They are entirely nomadic pastoralists and they speak a language called ‘Maa’; they move along with their cattle to place where the grass is green; as they depend on cattle for everything; a Masai without at least fifty cattle and ten siblings is taken for a poor man! Because for a Masai cattle is food, drink, wealth and status.

Masai legends suggest that they are migrants from the neighborhood of Lake Turkana nearby River Nile. The migration would have taken place between 15th and 18th century. At present there are about 800,000 members in this tribe; barely half of them live in Kenya while the rest in Tanzania. Masai people are fond of celebrations that include community dance and singing.


Ngorongoro Crater TanzaniaNgorongoro Crater image courtesy:

The Ngorongoro Crater as the habitat of numerous animals and the local Masai population requires a lot of water which is scarce in this semi desert area; some of the natural springs available in the area play a great role in keeping the place ticking.

Ngoitokitot Spring near the eastern wall of the crater is the biggest of them all; this spring has been the giver of life to the entire surrounding area; there is even a picnic spot around it. A swamp inhabited by hippo, elephants etc is also there to add variety to the Ngorongoro; this swamp was formed from the water left over by the spring.

The Serengeti Migration

This biologically rich area is host to almost all the animals of Africa it is mainly grass lands with only few patches of jungles. Ngorongoro Crater is a refuge for the animals involved in the famous Serengeti Migration in which millions of wildebeests, several thousands of zebras; buffaloes etc migrate in between Ngorongoro, Masai Mara and Serengeti Park; they are led purely by their instincts and they arrive in Ngorongoro in summer and leave the area with arrival of the rain. The Serengeti Migration is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

World Heritage Site

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 as it is home to about 25,000 animals, grazing and human occupation are prohibited; only the Masai Tribes are permitted to graze their animals here; as per rules they have to return with cattle the same day of coming in (a Masai has his own rules; he never obeys outsiders’ orders is another thing)!.

Odupai Fossils and Human Evolution

Ngorongoro was cradle to early human beings called ‘hominids’ (an extinct primate predecessor to human beings) that lived around this place 3 million years back. Some of the fossils recovered from Odupai Gorge belong to them. Later these humanoids got evolved in to hunter and gatherer and from there to pastoralists and finally to farmers. The Masai tribes came to this area very late (15th to 18th century) and captured the land for them.

A collection of gems

Ngorongoro Crater TanzaniaNgorongoro Crater image courtesy:

Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Masai Mara, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Arusha etc are all conservation parks lying close to each other. They can excel any other place in the world in diversity and richness of their animal wealth. These parks remain as the nature’s last resort for the survival of its many cherished beings. Fortunately the dark time of destruction is almost over; the present trend of nations looking for revenue from eco-tourism rather than exploitation. There are so many tour operators offering trips (saffaris0 to all these national parks individually as well as combined.

1 comment:

Abas KS said...

Hi, Sinu

How are you?

The Ngogongo..shessh (difficult to pronounce) looks real nasty on the scale model.

I reckon its a good place to hunt wild game for food & have a feasty barbeque!