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Tanzania National Parks and Game Reserves - Ngorongoro Conservation AreaTanzania info > Tanzania Parks and Reserves > Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera, the largest unbroken and ufloaded in the world. An active volcano several million years ago, it is thought to have once stood higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is home to a small relict population of black rhinoceros and some 25,000 other large animals, largely ungulates, alongside the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa. Nearby are lake-filled Empakaai crater and the active volcano of Oldonyo Lengai. Excavations carried out in the Oldupai Gorge to the west, resulted in discoveries which have made the area one of the most important in the world for research on the evolution of the human species.
Biogeographical Province East African Woodland/Savanna (3.05.04)
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Its sorroundings, click the map to expand and view details
Area 828,800ha. Contains the World Heritage site (809,440ha). Contiguous to Serengeti National Park (1,476,300ha) and 15km northwest of Lake Manyara National Park (32,500ha). Contained within the Serengeti-Ngorongoro Biosphere Reserve which covers 2,305,100ha.
Land Tenure Government. Administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority (NCAA).
Altitude ~ 960m to 3,648m (Mt.Loolmalasin).
Physical Features The Conservation Area rises 1,000m
from the plains of the eastern Serengeti, over the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands
to the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. To the south are densely
populated farmlands, to the north the Loliondo Game Control Reserve. The
highlands have four extinct volcanic peaks over 3000m, including the massifs
of Loolmalasin (3,648m), Oldeani (3,188m) and Lomagrut, the vulcanism
of which dates from the late Mesozoic/early Tertiary periods.
Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world which is
neither active nor flooded, though it contains a saline lake. Its floor,
at an elevation of approximately 2,380m, measures 17.7 by 21km and is
26,400ha in area (3% of the NCA), with a steep rim rising 400-610m above
the floor. The formation of the crater and highlands are associated with
massive rifting which occurred to the west of the Great Rift Valley. The
area also includes Empakaai Crater and Oldupai
Gorge, famous for their geology and associated palaeotological
studies. The highland forests form an important water-catchment for surrounding
Climate Because of the range in relief and the dynamics of its air masses, there is great variation within the climate of the area. In the highlands, it is generally moist and misty, while temperatures in the semi-arid plains can be as low as 2°C, and often go up to 35°C. The annual precipitation falls between November and April and varies from under 500mm on the arid plains in the west, to 1700mm on the forested slopes in the east, increasing with altitude.
Vegetation The variations in climate, landforms and altitude have resulted in several overlapping ecosystems and distinct habitats. Within Tanzania the area is important for retaining uncultivated lowland vegetation, for the arid and semi-arid plant communities below 1300m, for its abundant shortgrass grazing and for the water catchment highland forests. Scrub heath, montane long grasslands, high open moorland and the remains of dense evergreen montane forests cover the steep slopes. Highland trees include peacock flower Albizzia gummifera, yellowwood Podocarpus latifolia, Hagenia abyssinica and sweet olive Olea chrysophylla. There is an extensive stand of pure bamboo Arundinaria alpina on Oldeani Mountain and pencil cedar Juniperus procera on Makarut Mountain in the west. Croton spp.dominate lower slopes. The upland woodlands containing red thorn Acacia lahai and gum acacia A. seyal are critical for protecting the watershed (Kayera, 1988).
The crater floor is mainly open shortgrass plains with fresh and brackish water lakes, marshes, swamps and two patches of Acacia woodland: Lerai Forest, with co-dominants yellow fever tree Acacia xanthophloea and Rauvolfia caffra; and Laiyanai Forest with pillar wood Cassipourea malosana, Albizzia gummifera, and Acacia lahai. The undulating plains to the west are grass-covered with occasional umbrella acacia Acacia tortilis and Commiphora africana trees, which become almost desert during periods of severe drought. Blackthorn Acacia mellifera and zebrawood Dalbergia melanoxylon dominate in the drier conditions beside Lake Eyasi. These extensive grasslands and bush are rich, relatively untouched by cultivation, and support very large animal populations.
Fauna a population of about 25,000 large animals, largely
ungulates along with the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa,
lives in the crater. These include black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (CR),
which have declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995
(Moehlman et al.,1996), and hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius
which are very uncommon in the area. There are also many other ungulates:
wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus (7,000 estimated in 1994), zebra
Equus burchelli (4,000), eland Taurotragus oryx, Grant’s
and Thomson’s gazelles Gazella granti and G. thomsoni (3,000).
The crater has the densest known population of lion Panthera leo (VU)
numbering 62 in 2001 (Arusha Times,2001). On the crater rim are leopard
Panthera pardus, elephant Loxodonta africana (EN) numbering
42 in 1987 but only 29 in 1992 (Said et al.,1995), mountain reedbuck Redunca
fulvorufula and buffalo Syncerus caffer (4,000 in 1994).
However, since the 1980s the crater’s wildebeest population has
fallen by a quarter to about 19,000 and the numbers of eland and Thomson’s
gazelle have also declined while buffalos increased greatly, probably
due to the long prevention of fire which favors high fibrous grasses over
shorter less fibrous types (IUCN/SSC,2002).
In summer enormous numbers of Serengeti migrants pass through the plains of the reserve, including 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,00 zebra and 470,000 gazelles (Leader-Williams et al.,1996). Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus mainly occur mainly near Lerai Forest; serval Felis serval occur widely in the crater and on the plains to the west. Common in the reserve are lion, hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta and jackal Canis aureus. Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (VU), though common in the reserve, are scarce in the crater itself. Wild dog Lycaon pictus (EN) has recently disappeared from the crater and may have declined elsewhere in the Conservation Area as well. Golden cat Felis aurata has recently been seen in the Ngorongoro forest.
Over 500 species of bird have been recorded within the NCA (Fishpool & Evans, 2001). These include ostrich Struthio camelus, with white pelican Pelicanus onocrotalus, and greater and lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber and P.minor on Lake Makat in Ngorongoro crater, Lake Ndutu and the Empakaai crater lake where over a million birds foregather. There are also lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, Ruepell’s griffon, Gyps ruepelli (110) Verreaux's eagle Aquila verreauxii, Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus, pallid harrier Circus macrourus, lesser falcon Falco naumanni (VU), Taita falcon F. fasciinucha, kori bustard Choriotis kori, Fischer’s lovebird Agapornis fischeri, rosy-breasted longclaw Macronyx ameliae, Karamoja apalis Apalis karamojae (VU), redthroated tit Parus fringillinus and Jackson’s whydah Euplectes jacksoni. Sunbirds in the highland forest include the golden winged sunbird Nectarinia reichenowi and eastern double collared sunbird N. mediocris. Other waterbirds found on Lake Eyasi include yellowbilled stork Mycteria ibis, African spoonbill Platalea alba, avocet Recurvirostra avosetta and greyheaded gull Larus cirrocephalus. The butterfly Papilio sjoestedti, sometimes known as the Kilimanjaro swallowtail, flies in the montane forests. It has a very restricted range but is well protected in national parks (National Park Service, pers. comm.,1995).
Cultural Heritage The area has palaeotological and archaeological sites from a wide range of eras. The four major sites are Olduvai gorge, Laetoli and Lake Ndutu all near the Serengeti and the Nasera rock shelter in the Gol Mountains. The variety and richness of the fossil remains, including those of early hominids, has made the area one of the most important in the world for research on the evolution of the human species. Olduvai Gorge yielded valuable remains of early hominids including, in 1959, Australopithecus boisei (Zinthanthropus) 1.75m years old, also Homo habilis as well as fossil bones of many extinct animals. At Laetoli nearby, fossil footprints of an upright hominid 3.6m years old were found in 1975.
Local Human Population The Maasai, nomadic cattle herders, entered the crater around 1840. Since the multi-use protection of the area was proposed in 1959, the population of the area has exploded beyond the numbers of cattle able to support it without farming, aggravating tensions with the conservation-oriented administration. In 1966 there were 8,700 people in the NCA. In 1994, the Natural Peoples World estimated the Maasai population at about 40,000 (one quarter of those living in Tanzania), with some 300,000 head of livestock which graze approximately 70-75% of the conservation area. But mobile pastoralists are difficult to count, and Leader-Williams et al. in 1996 put the figure at 26,000 pastoralists with 285,000 head of cattle. Since their eviction by the NCAA in 1974, there are no inhabitants in Ngorongoro and Empakaai Craters or the forest. (National Park Service, pers. comm.,1995). In general, livestock numbers are declining and the Maasai are growing poorer.
Visitors and Visitors Facilities The spectacular wildlife, geology and archaeology of Ngorongoro-Serengeti are major African tourist attractions spread across an area the size of Rwanda or Sicily. About 24% of all tourists visiting the parks of northern Tanzania stop at Ngorongoro. These totalled 35,130 in 1983, 140,000 in 1989 in at least 30,000 vehicles (Fosbrooke,1990) and, according to the Chief Conservator, there were between 1998 and 2001, 562,205 visitors of whom 202,957 (36%) were Tanzanian (Mbakilwa, 2002). The damage inflicted by these numbers is considerable. There are four lodges on the crater rim and one at Lake Ndutu on the edge of Serengeti. Vehicles and guides can be hired from the Conservation Authority to enter the crater. There is an interpretive centre at the Lodoare entrance and another at Oldupai, which focuses on the interpretation of the Gorge and its excavations. An information centre to promote wildlife tourism to local Tanzanians was opened in Arusha in 2002.
Scientific Research and Facilities The area, with Serengeti, is one of the best studied areas in Africa. Work based at Seronera Wildlife Research Centre (SWRC) in the contiguous Serengeti National Park, formerly the Serengeti Research Institute, include the monitoring of climate, vegetation and animal populations. The level of research into human and range ecology is low. Long-term studies in the crater have been on lion, serval, rhinoceros and elephant behaviourial ecology (SWRC, 1993). From 1988, the Ngorongoro Ecological Monitoring Programme has been individually identifying black rhinoceros, and monitoring breeding and movement patterns (Moehlman et al.,1996). Seronera Research Centre provides a research station and accommodation for scientists. There is a small research cabin within the crater. The IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group has just reported on the decline of the crater’s antelope species and increase in buffalos (IUCN/SSC).
Conservation Value Ngorongoro is the largest intact, inactive and unflooded caldera in the world. The conservation area has one of Africa's largest aggregations of wildlife. It is home to a small and isolated relict of the black rhino population,and discoveries in the area round Oldupai gorge is one of the most important in the world for research on the evolution of the human species
Conservation Management Ngorongoro was first established
as a conservation area which would accommodate the existing Maasai. The
Ordinance of 1959 created the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA).
Its objectives were to conserve and develop the NCA's natural resources,
promote tourism, and safeguard and promote the interests
In 1985, following the Serengeti Workshop, convened by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Government of Tanzania and IUCN initiated the Ngorongoro Conservation and Development Project. Its main objectives were to identify the requirements for long-term conservation of the area by assessing land use pressures in and adjacent to the conservation area; to determine the development needs of resident pastoralists; to review and evaluate management options; to formulate conservation and development policies to fulfil the needs of both local Maasai people and conservation priorities; and to develop proposals for follow-up activities (IUCN, 1987). Zones were defined for scenic and archaeological quality, wildlife forest, pastureland and infrastructural development. Since the problems were identified, the NCAA has set more funds aside for appropriate solutions, veterinary services and water have been provided and the relationship between the tribesmen and the NCAA has been improved by the establishment of a Community Development Department and a joint Management-Resident Representative Council (Leader-Williams et al.,1996).
The contiguous and nearby protected areas provide key feeding grounds for a number of species such as buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and Thomson's gazelle that migrate out of the crater during periods of drought, and much effort is made to prevent migration routes from being encroached on by settlements and agricultural developments. Efforts have been made to control poaching with the aid of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the African Wildlife Foundation, the Tanzania Wildlife Protection Fund, WWF and the police. IUCN/WWF Project #1934 was set up in 1981 to combat poaching of rhinoceros in the Lake Eyasi area and two vehicles and radios were provided. In an attempt to reduce pressure on the natural forest for fuel wood the NCAA produce up to 40,000 tree seedlings annually. Ngorongoro Conservation Area Management Plan proposals have been submitted but were rejected by the Chief Conservator because the proposed plan was regarded as going beyond its terms of reference.
Management Constraints There has been continued poaching of black rhinoceros and leopard, which is difficult to suppress effectively due to the lack of equipment and fuel, rough terrain and low staff morale. According to Moehlman et al. (1996), the rhinoceros population, owing to its small size, is extremely vulnerable to poaching, and faces genetic threats from inbreeding and loss of genetic variation. The spread of malignant catarrh fever which kills cattle, although it has little effect on wildebeest, has been reduced as wildebeest numbers have markedly decreased as have other antelope numbers. There is a problem with securing water, caused by the neglect of the dams, boreholes and pipelines installed during the 1950s and 1960s and by the road widening and canal works which have blocked and diverted water from streams and the Gorigor swamp either to tourist lodges or directly to Lake Makat, no longer flooding the crater during the rains (IUCN,2002).
Grassland areas are also degrading with the extensive spread of the unpalatable grass Eleusine jaegeri, and other weeds which compete aggressively with palatable grasses, especially the poisonous Mexican poppy Argemone mexicana which rapidly invades overgrazed land, crowding out both crops and the native plants which sustain the existing wildlife. The invasions may be partly due to the prevention of fire and overgrazing due to drought which may contribute as much as emigration, disease or disturbance by tourists to the change in the animal populations. The forests to the north-east are increasingly threatened by fuelwood gathering both by people living in the Conservation Area and in villages in the Karatu and Kitete areas along the eastern boundary. A number of poorer Maasai from the area make a living collecting honey from wild bee colonies in the forest, frequently burning trees in the process. About five percent of the area has been degraded by trampling and overgrazing, and there is a threat from vehicle-tracks becoming excessively enlarged, mainly by tourist activity.
Conflicts over land-use have increased in recent years as the Maasai became more numerous and sedentary, turning to cultivation to supplement their previously cattle-based diet. The decline in numbers of livestock was aggravated by inadequate veterinary services, which the NCAA had difficulties providing as income from tourism decreased (Leader-Williams et al.,1996). In the 1960s each man had 12 cattle to sustain him; by 1989 this had become five (Fosbrooke, 1990). In response to the scarcity of food, residents were allowed to practise cultivation on a temporary basis. More than 2,200ha were estimated to be under cultivation in 1993 (TWCM,1993). Much of this was on areas too steep for agriculture, causing erosion. Encroachment on the slopes of Empakaai and Kapenjiro has been so extensive that they may be excised from the conservation area. This has had serious impacts on the vegetation which protects water catchments, and on wildlife corridors (J.Thorsell, pers.comm.,1993). In addition, the Chief Conservator reported that disease followed by a plague of flies had killed at least 600 animals in 2000 (Nuhu, 2001).
Priorities identified by the community include food security, livestock health and infrastructure such as better water supply, housing, clinics and schools. Some of these have been provided to try to lessen conflicts (Leader-Williams et al.,1996) and in 2002 the NCAA was reported to have set up an NGO, Ereto, to support local communities with free services (Kangera,2002). But there is still a lack of a clear management policy and commitment to human development on the same level as the conservation of the wildlife. The uncertainty caused by this has led to under-investment in the area, which the employment and empowerment of local people would begin to improve. But in 2001 the World Heritage Committee urged a moratorium on further development until an assessment of environmental impacts, especially of water resources by a hydrological survey, had been completed. It also recommended a scientific overseeing committee, ecologically based burning, mitigation of road works, an improved road plan and limiting the effect of tourist numbers (IUCN,2002).
Offices Chief Conservator, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Authority, PO Box 1, Ngorongoro Crater. Director General, Serengeti Wildlife
Research Institute, P.O.Box 661, Arusha.
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