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Ngorongoro Conservation Area

The Crater is perpetually wet and green.

Best time to visit: December, January, February, July

Safaris: Tanzania's Northern Circuit

Activities: Game Walking, Bird Watching, Cultural Visits

Accommodation: Adventure Camping, Serena Lodge

Temperatures:
Day: 5-32° C, 40-90° F
Night: 0-15° C, 32-59° F

The Ngorongoro Crater is a World Heritage Site and probably one of the most beautiful areas in the world. However, the Crater itself is only 3% of the total Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which covers 8,280 square km. This vast area is littered with recently active volcanoes, towering mountains, undulating plains, rolling sand dunes, forests, rivers, lakes and the world famous Olduvai Gorge archeological site.

A perfect caldera 18 km across, the Crater remains the main attraction of the conservation area. Within this one small area, swamps, lakes, rivers, grasslands, woodlands and forest provide virtually every habitat found in East Africa; in every habitat, wildlife is found in profusion.

The scenery by itself is magnificent. The ground falls away at your feet, descending into the deep greens of waving forest branches before opening out to the flat expanse of open plains at the base of the Crater. Glittering lake waters reflect the sun. In the distance, the Crater walls rise again.

Grazing animals dominate the Crater, with zebra, wildebeest, gazelle, buffalo, eland, warthog and hartebeest covering the crater floor. The Crater boasts the highest concentration of predators in East Africa. Large prides of lion and packs of hyena are drawn to this bounty; cheetahs are also frequently spotted at a kill. Leopards lurk in the forests, as do many of the smaller, nocturnal feline predators, such as the civet, servals, and genets.

The bird life is abundant. Red-eyed doves, Hildebrandt's francolins, turacos, hornbills and shrikes are found in the forest; the Verreaux eagles and Auger buzzards soar through the air above. Water birds such as the spoonbill, jacana and widow birds are often present at the swamps.

Outside the Crater itself, the Ngorongoro Area is dominated by vast areas of grassland plains, which are dry throughout most of year. Only the most drought resistant animals, such as the fringe-eared oryx and striped hyena, remain on the plains throughout the year. During the brief rains, the plains spring to life, with thick grasses quickly sprouting in the fertile soil. Wildebeest, Thompsons gazelles, zebras, topi and hartebeest move into the area to take advantage of this growth, and for a few brief weeks, the plains are rich in wildlife.

As if the diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife were not enough, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area also boasts Olduvai Gorge, site of Louis and Mary Leakey's archeological dig. Their discovery of the Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis (Handy Man) fossils are some of the most important, and controversial, hominid finds known. The Origins of Man debates these remains have fuelled continue today.

Wildlife and pastorialists share the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA); it does not form a National Park and the Masai graze their cattle in this area as they have for centuries. The NCA Authority, established in 1959 by the Tanzanian government, is responsible for coordinating the wildlife, Masai grazing, forestry, archeological sites, education, research and tourism.

Copyright Melinda Rees of Eco-resorts

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