Ngorongoro Crater
Michael Ellis

It has been said often that if you had only one day left to live on the planet earth then spend it in the Ngorongoro Crater. I have visited this remarkable place well over a dozen times and I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. The Ngorongoro Crater is located in northern Tanzania, right on the edge of the Great African Rift valley. It should actually be referred to as a caldera. A crater is caused by an impact of a meteorite or the explosion from a bomb; it comes from the Greek word for mixing bowl. A caldera on the other hand is created by volcanic activity. It derives from the Spanish word for caldron.

Two and a half million years ago there was a volcanic mountain that rivaled Kilimanjaro in size, probably rising to over 20,000’ in elevation. As the magna chambers feeding this volcano became depleted, the overlying mass of the mountain collapsed upon the empty chamber. This resulted in a nearly perfectly round caldera that is eleven miles in diameter, surrounded by a 2000’ circular vertical wall.

There are only three roads that drop down into the crater, which is home for somewhere between 35 and 70 thousand mammals. I hate to use this analogy but it is like a perfect zoo and a microcosm for the surrounding ecosystems. In the same way that we save dessert for the end of the meal, I save the Ngorongoro Crater for last part of our trip. While it is a bit disturbing to see the large number of safari vehicles in the crater, it does create a perfect situation for photography. The animals are habituated to all the people and therefore easy to approach.

When I first visited Tanzania years ago, tourists could camp in the crater. But no more. After the great slaughter of the 1980’s and 90’s Ngorongoro was one of the last refuges for the highly endangered black rhino. No camping means the rangers can keep better tabs on the rhinos at night and keep them safe from poachers. The rhinos now number 17 in the crater and several years ago a few wandered out and started breeding in the nearby Serengeti National Park. This is a great victory for all of us.

I have seen many people cry when they first see and then when they must leave the crater. It really is one of the major natural wonders of our left in our modern world.

This is Michael Ellis with a perspective.



Posted on

November 8, 2010