© Your Maasai safari guide at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
As with many wilderness areas in Africa man has had a close link to the Ngorongoro Crater for centuries, and today the eternal struggle between man's needs and the protection of wilderness areas is played out around the Crater.
The Masai and the Crater
The Masai history of the crater started when the southward moving Maa people arrived in the area in the early parts of the 19th century. They came upon the Mbulu and Datoga people inhabiting the crater and after skirmishes the Masai took over the area and lived there for over a hundred years before the first European saw it.
In the early 1900's German farmers moved in to the crater to farm but after the WW1 they departed to be replaced by other farmers and squatters. In 1951 the crater was declared a part of the Serengeti National Park and all squatters were moved out, although the Masai continued to graze their stock on the crater floor. After a great deal of conflict with the authorities the Masai were evicted from the crater in 1959.
Through the concern of people such as professor Bernhard Grzimek, who was studying the area in the early 1960's, the Ngorongoro area was removed as part of the Serengeti National Park. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is now a multi-use area and the Masai can once again be seen grazing their cattle on the crater floor.
Why the Ngorongoro Crater is Considered so Vital
The Crater is more than 600m deep, the floor is 260 km2 and 14 kilometers across in places. There are said to be 25 000 animals living in the crater at times, many of which are permanent residents. It was once thought that all animals stay permanently in the crater but research has shown that up to half of the zebras and wildebeest leave the area in the wet season.
Once thought to be higher than Kilimanjaro before imploding, the crater is an iconic wilderness and safari destination. Linked to the Serengeti in proximity and status the two areas, as we know them today, were formed at the same time when Ngorongoro exploded.
With the explosion came an implosion and the crater was formed. Time and wind ensured ground cover and vegetation taking hold and producing one of the most nutritious eco-systems on earth.
The plains of the southern Serengeti were layered with lava from the explosion of Ngorongoro, and windblown sands and grasses were deposited over time. Due to the laval layer the ground cover of the southern Serengeti is very shallow, trapping all nutrients and thereby ensuring the grass is of high nutritional value. It is this that brings the herds of the great migration to give birth on the plains of the southern Serengeti today.
Dangers of Research
Descending into the Ngorongoro Crater for the first time I saw how much bigger the area was than what my first impressions were and appreciated why the legendary researcher Bernhard Grzimek, who was doing research in the crater at the time, was concerned when his son Michael did not get back in time to pick him up. Michael had damaged his plane en route back to the crater.