Ngorongoro Crater General Information
In the Great Rift Valley, that great schism in the earth’s crust, lies the wonderful Ngorongoro Crater, one of the wonders of the natural world. It is an extinct volcano that collapsed in on itself around 25 million years ago thus forming a vast superbowl where the largest permanent concentration of African game is on display.
The central bowl, the caldera, has sides roughly 1,950 feet high and a flattish centre with a diameter of about ten miles. The views from the top of the crater wall are absolutely breathtaking. The crater walls are forested but four wheel drive vehicles will take you down into this primeval paradise of woodland, lake, river, swamp and plain that shelters around 40,000 animals. Many of these are the large grazing animals such as wildebeest, buffalo, gazelle and zebra who depend on the open grasslands in the crater.
These attract the attendant predators, the black-maned lion, the leopard and hyena. The elephant found within the caldera tend to be the lone males who have left the herds in the forested crater rim.
When the water stocks are low elsewhere the animals within this micro-world turn to the swamps for fresh water and food. Elephants feed on the giant sedges and hippo wallow in the pools. The Fever Tree forests shelter monkeys, bushbuck and waterbuck and the few black rhino that have taken refuge here. A soda lake, fed by the Munge river attracts water birds, including flamingos and is a favourite place for predators to make their kill. Wildly beautiful as it is, it is not surprising that Ngorongoro Crater has been called a Garden of Eden.
The conservation area also encompasses several other volcanos, one of which, Oldonyo Lengai, is still live. You may struggle to the top, if you wish, to gaze into its open and sulphurous maw but many prefer to admire from afar. One of the most fascinating attractions in the area is the Olduvai Gorge, where an old river has carved away the rock to expose layer upon layer of volcanic soil.
This is where Dr Louis and Mary Leakey found the remains of hominids “Nutcracker Man” and “Toolmaking Man”. The “Cradle of Mankind” now has a visitor centre where you may hear a short lecture on the the work of the Leakeys and their successors and a small museum where you may see some of their finds, including a giant giraffe – it is hard to believe that they were once even taller!