Ngorongoro Crater Location Facts History Tanzania Africa

Ngorongoro Crater Location Facts History Tanzania Africa

Cloaked in a tangle of ragged vegetation, the steep flanks of this ancient extinct volcano in northern Tanzania give little indication of what lies within its crater’s walls. The silence of the thin air some 6000ft (1800m) above sea level is broken only by the rustling of leaves as warm breezes rise in the updraft from the surrounding plain, and chase over the rim into the watery blue African sky.

At the crest of the crater’s rim, there is a breathtaking change of scene. The land plunges into a hazy void, sloping down to form a huge, pastel-shaded dish. At first, it is hard to adjust to the giddying immensity of the space. The only points of focus are the filigree lines of the watercourses some 2000ft (600m) below, winding to glittering, pink-smudged pools.

Dark flocks pepper the crater floor; only when these begin to drift cloud-like into ever-changing formations does it become clear what they are – thousands of grazing wildebeests and zebras. Suddenly a wave of movement stirs the pools as the pink smudges to take to the air, wheel, and then resettle on the water. They are immense flocks of flamingos, which congregate in the shallow crater lake.

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One of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Africa – an estimated 30,000 animals – is to be seen on the crater’s 100sq mile (260sq km) floor. Naming Ngorongoro’s animals sound like reading a checklist for photographers on safari. There are some 50 different species of large mammals, including lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, giraffes, various antelopes such as elands and impala, vervet monkeys, baboons, warthogs and hyenas.

There are also more than 200 species of birds, including ostriches, ducks and guinea fowl. Effectively, the crater is a small-scale version of the wildlife of East Africa, raised to the heavens as if in the palm of some smiling god’s hand.

Crater Highlands

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This natural Noah’s Ark is a happy accident of geology. Ngorongoro lies on the eastern spur of the Great Rift Valley, a fault in the Earth’s crust curving through Africa from Mozambique to Syria. At various times over millions of years, enormous pressures at the Earth’s core have exploited the weaknesses in the fault, and molten rock has been forced to the surface in the series of volcanoes now forming. East Africa’s ‘Crater Highland’.

Ngorongoro is one of these volcanoes. Once it was cone-shaped and about twice its present height. But when the power of its present height. But when the power of its last eruption was eventually spent some 2 1/2 million years ago, and all the molten rock beneath its cone has been spewed out as lava, the top of the cone sank into the cavity. All that remains of it today is Round Table Hill in the crater’s northwest sector.

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Technically, a volcanic crater that is produced by a volcanic explosion or collapse is known as a caldera. Ngorongoro is the world’s sixth largest caldera – about 11 miles (18km) across and roughly circular. But it is the largest caldera with an unbroken rim. The crater’s African name, however, takes little note of such statistical niceties Ngorongoro simply means ‘big hole’.

A rough and bumpy road built in 1959 leads down to the crater floor, dropping 2000ft (600m) in just 2 miles (3.2km). Only vehicles with four-wheel drive are allowed in the crater. They bring thousands of visitors a year in a steady trickle.

Unlike the animals of the Serengeti Plain to the west which migrate annually in search of water and fresh pastures, most of the Ngorongoro animals stay in the crater throughout the year – water is always available.

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