Tales of travel, birds, exercise, nature, friends, beautiful places, ecology, and life in general.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Welcome to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). Approximately 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates and reputedly the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa, live here. These large animals include the endangered black rhinoceros and the hippopotamus, which is very uncommon in the area. There also are many ungulates including wildebeest, zebra, eland, and Grant's and Thompson's gazelles. The crater has the densest known population of lions. You can get great views of the wildlife here because they are habituated to tourists passing through.
The Ngorongoro Crater is a large, unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera which formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself 2-3 million years ago. It is 610 m (2,000 ft) deep and its floor covers 100 sq mi.
The conservation area also protects Oldupai Gorge--one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world . At Laetoli, west of Ngorongoro Crater, hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 millions years old and represent some of the earliest signs of mankind in the world. Research mainly by Louis and Mary Leakey has been instrumental in furthering understanding of early human evolution. Their work yielded four different kinds of hominid, showing a gradual increases in brain size and in the complexity of their stone tools.
NCA is a unique protected area in Africa because conservation is integrated with human use. Today there are some 42,200 Maasai pastoralists living in the NCA with their livestock. During the rains they move out on to the open plains; in the dry season they move into the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes. The Maasai are allowed to take their animals into the Crater for water and grazing, but not to live or cultivate there.
Our visit to the Crater was amazing--although it brought up many group discussions on whether or not what we were participating in was "natural" because the animals didn't care that we were there. It gave many of us a zoo or drive-thru wildlife park feeling--yet the animals were in their natural habitat doing natural things (hunting, mating, etc.).