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The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. It features the Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest unbroken volcanic caldera. Eight million years ago, the crater was an active volcano but its cone collapsed, forming a 610-meter deep crater, with sides so steep that it has become a natural enclosure for a very wide variety of wildlife, including most of the species found in East Africa.

Although quite large, covering an area of 311 sq. km the 20-kilometre wide crater accounts for just a tenth of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which also includes the still active Ol-Ndoinyo Lengai volcano (meaning "Mountain of God" in the Maasai language), which last erupted in 1983, and the Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakeys, a family of renowned archaeologists, discovered the remains of a 1.8 million year old skeleton of Australopithecus boisei, one of the distinct links of the human evolutionary chain (indeed, fossils show that the area is one of the oldest sites of hominoid habitation in the world).

Most East African animals can be found in the crater, with the exception of Topi, Impala, and Giraffe (the latter because there isn't enough acacia to browse, the former probably due to fierce competition from wildebeest).

Ngorongoro is one of the last places in Africa where to reliably see the endangered black rhino, as a small population lives pretty much undisturbed. Although a population of almost 100 rhinos lived here in 1965, by the mid 80s poaching had almost completely eradicated them, reducing their numbers to under 5 individuals. After severe intervention by the Tanzanian government (including 24-hour ranger surveillance), the population has slowly recovered to the actual (2004 census) 17 individuals.

Predators are common sights in the crater, including cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, and the magnificent black-maned lions. Leopards and the night-goers (serval, ratel, and bat eared fox) are much more elusive.
Animals found in the Ngorongoro, besides the mentioned before, include wildebeest (7,000 estimated in 1994), zebra (4,000), eland, Grant's and Thomson's gazelle (3,000), hippopotamus (though very uncommon), hartebeest, waterbuck, warthog, mountain reedbuck, buffalo, and elephant. Oddly, elephants found in the crater are predominately old bulls who survived, inside the relative safety of the crater, the pre-ivory ban days in the 1980s. These are probably the largest elephants to be found in the Serengeti ecosystem. No females are known to inhabit the crater.

Birds also abound in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, with over 500 species recorded.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, the crater is not a self-contained ecosystem and some animals do migrate in and out, though not in significant numbers. Most of the animals are resident and remain year-round, with 20,000 to 30,000 large mammals to be found at any given time within the Crater walls.

Categories & Keywords
Category:Travel and Places
Subcategory Detail:Tanzania
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Kilimanjaro Mountain. African Landscape (natural colours). Kenya & Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comKilimanjaro Mountain. African Landscape (aged colours). Kenya & Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comKilimanjaro Mountain. African Landscape (aged colours). Kenya & Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comNgorongoro Crater – view from above. Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comA wake (group of feeding vultures) of White-backed Vultures (Gyps africanus) eating the carcass of a Wildebeest. Serengeti National Park. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCommon Zebra  (Equus quagga). Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCommon Zebra  (Equus quagga). Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comWith estimates that puts its population between 1.7 and 2 million, the Wildebeest is the most numerous inhabitant of the greater Serengeti ecosystem.  Undisputed protagonists and real anti-heroes of tNgorongoro Crater – view from above. Tanzania. East Africa 2009 © Nora de Angelli /