The open plains of the eastern Serengeti rise to the crater highlands of the volcanic massifs of Loolmalasin (3,587 m) and Oldeani (3,168 m) dating from the late Mesozoic and early Tertiary.
Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest inactive unbroken calderas in the world which is unflooded. It has a mean diameter of 16-19 km, a crater floor of 26,400 ha, and a rim soaring to 400-610 m above the crater floor. The formation of the crater and other highlands are associated with the massive rifting which occurred to the west of the Gregory Rift Valley. The conservation area also includes Empakaai Crater and Olduvai Gorge, famous for geology and associated palaeontological studies.
A variable climate and diverse landforms and altitudes have resulted in several distinct habitats. Scrub heath and the remains of dense montane forests cover the steep slopes. The crater floor is mainly open grassy plains with alternating fresh and brackish water lakes, swamps and two patches of acacia woodland; Lerai Forest, comprising dominant tree species Acacia xanthonhloea and Rauvolfia caffra .
A population of about 25,000 large animals lives in the crater, mainly ungulates, along with the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa. They include the critically endangered black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis , which have declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995, and hippopotamus, which are very uncommon in the area. There are also many other ungulates: wildebeest (7,000 estimated in 1994), Burchell's zebra (4,000), eland, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles (3,000). The crater has the densest known population of lion, which are classed as vulnerable, numbering only 62 in 2001. On the crater rim are leopard and the endangered African elephant, numbering 42 in 1987 but only 29 in 1992, mountain reedbuck and buffalo (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 whereas buffalos increased greatly, probably due to the prevention of fire which favours high fibrous grasses over shorter, less fibrous types.
In summer enormous numbers of Serengeti migrants pass through the plains of the reserve, including 1.7 million wildebeest, 260,000 zebra and 470,000 gazelle. Waterbuck mainly occur mainly near Lerai Forest; serval widely in the crater and on the plains to the west. Common in the reserve are lion, hartebeest, spotted hyena and jackal. Cheetah, classed as vulnerable although common in the reserve, are scarce in the crater itself. The endangered wild dog Lycaon pictus has recently disappeared from the crater and may have declined elsewhere in the Conservation Area as well. The golden cat has recently been seen in the Ngorongoro forest.
Ngorongoro has palaeontological and archaeological sites over a wide range of dates. The four major sites are Olduvai Gorge, Laetoli site, Lake Ndutu site and the Nasera Rock Shelter. The variety and richness of the fossil remains, including those of early hominids, has made this one of the major areas in the world for research on the human evolution. Olduvai Gorge has produced valuable remains of early hominids including Australopithecus and Homo habilis as well as fossil bones of many extinct animals. Nearby, at Laetoli, are fossil hominid footprints from the Pliocene age.
Actually there is considerable controversy about the exact number of people in the NCA partly because pastoral people, being mobile, are difficult to enumerate, but some Maasai live there.
Details on history are only provided in the nomination dossier for the archaeological sites - no material is provided for the Maasai pastoral landscape or on the history of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. As the history of the association between the Maasai and the Conservation Area has relevance for an understanding of the present arrangements, ICOMOS has included brief information on the history of the Maasai in this area and of the designation of the area.
The remains of hominin fossils in the Olduvai Gorge were first noted in 1911 by Prof. Kattwinkel, a German entomologist, while making observations on butterflies. Under his recommendations, a scientific expedition was led by Prof. Hans Reck, who in 1913-4 recovered fossil specimens that included extinct forms of large mammals. In 1931, Louis Leakey, a British scholar, began work at Olduvai. His work led to the discoveries of the oldest stone tools (Oldowan Industrial techno-complex) that made Olduvai Gorge a type site. In 1959, Mary Leakey made the discovery of the then oldest hominin in eastern Africa (Zinjanthropus boisei) nick-named, "nut cracker man" - the first species of early hominin (now subsumed under the genus Paranthropus) to be found outside of South Africa.
The discovery of the Zinjanthropus boisei skull (now subsumed under the genus Paranthropus) was seen as a major milestone in the history of paleoanthropology, and reinforced the idea, put forward by Leakey and originally proffered by Charles Darwin in 1871, that Africa could be seen as the ‘cradle of humanity' in demonstrating how humans were descended from an ape ancestry.
The finds sparked a surge of paleoanthropological interest in East Africa.
In 1960, further research works in the same horizons yielded the first Homo habilis. This species became the Type Specimen (holotype) of the genus Homo. Morphologically and morphometrically, this large-brained hominin was the first species described as a direct ancestor of later hominins including modern humans (Homo sapiens).
Subsequent research in the late 1980s involved teams of Tanzanian and American scientists under the Institute of Hominid Origins led by Donald Johanson. From 1990 to date, a paleoanthropological research project is ongoing at Olduvai Gorge (Olduvai Landscape Paleoanthropology Project- OLAP) co-led by the University of Rutgers (USA) and the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
Some of the excavated material is stored at Olduvai, and a considerable amount is housed at the National Museum of Kenya.
Laetoli was first studied by the German entomologist, Kohl Larsen in the 1920s and yielded few fossils. In 1974 a team led by Dr. Mary Leakey made the discoveries of the hominin footprints trails and excavations were carried out in 1978 -1979. Also in 1974 the hominin remains were found which are seen to be associated with the footprints.
Research work at Lake Ndutu, which yielded remains of the Ndutu human skull were carried out in 1973 - although the archaeologists are not identified they are known to be A. A. Mturi.
Nasera Rock shelter was studied by Michael Mehlman - no date is given.
Ngorongoro Crater floor was first recognized to have burial mounds by a cattle rancher, Siedentopf, and his assistant, Rothe. The resources were later examined by Prof. Hans Reck in 1913 and by Dr. Arning in 1915.
Maasai Pastoral Landscape
None of the following information is included in the dossier. The Maasai migrated south from Northern Africa, probably in the region of the Nile Valley in Sudan, northwest of Lake Turkana, sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries, before establishing themselves in the Eastern region of Africa in the mid 17th century. They quickly spread south through the Rift Valley, whose fertile grasslands were ideal for their cattle, and around the 17th or 18th centuries reached their present-day territories in Kenya and Tanzania, where they were feared and renowned as warriors.
From 1830 onward, Maasai unity disintegrated into a succession of wars between the various clans, largely over cattle and grazing grounds, which led to territorial losses and gains by their neighbours. By the end of the 19th century, their neighbours and British colonists had displaced the Maasai from the rich lands of the central Rift Valley - the area between Lake Victoria and Mount Kenya. The infamous 1904 Maasai Agreement drawn up by the colonial power had effectively reduced their territory by two thirds. A further wave of forcible 'relocation' took place in 1911-13, confining the Maasai to distant reserves in southern Kenya and Tanzania.
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area was created in 1959 as a separate part of the Serengeti National Park. The Maasai were allowed to live in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area but were excluded from the National Park. The Maasai elders who agreed to this deal subsequently said they did not know what they were signing. Previously a combination of wildlife experts and palaeontologists, including Louis Leakey and Bernard Grzimek (author of Serengeti Shall Not Die), had campaigned to remove the Maasai from the whole of the Serengeti/Ngorongoro area and make the whole area a national wildlife park.
Post independence, tourism was developed around big game watching from game lodges in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. In the 1990s, when such tourism begun to yield high revenues, there was pressure to increase the game reserves and Ikorongo and Grameti Games Reserves were added to Serengeti's western border and the local people once again removed. Since then there have been moves to create Wildlife Conservation Areas to the north of the Serengeti: the Maasai complained in a case that went to the Tanzanian Human Rights commission.
Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maasai have increased in numbers from around 10,000 in 1960s to just over 60,000 today. There were moves from 1975 to ban agriculture in the area and in 1992 the Government indicated that Ngorongoro should be for wildlife and the Maasai be encouraged to move. In 2003, 200 families were evicted as illegal immigrants. The Maasai are currently only in part of the nominated area (in spite of the fact that the 1959 agreement allowed them to live in the whole).