Endangered spaces: Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is an amazing place. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was formed when the caldera of a large volcano collapsed, creating a self contained ecosystem in the process, with dozens of species of animals living within the 2000 foot walls.

Tourists have flocked to the region for years due to the spectacular game viewing options, which include large numbers of zebras, elephants and gazelles, not to mention lions, and the very rare black rhino. The crater is a mere 102-square miles in size, and yet there are few areas on the planet that offer the variety of wildlife within such a relatively small area. But that small, self-contained space is now endangered thanks to the number of visitors that make the journey each year.

National Geographic Adventure is reporting that the increased traffic to the Crater is putting an undeniable strain on the environment there. The article says that back in the 1970’s, there were generally no more than three or four vehicles inside the Crater at any given time. But now, during peak season, there can be as many 300 trucks patrolling the roads, and this overcrowding is putting a strain on the system. The story also notes that an estimated 64,000 people live within the Ngornogro Conservation Area, a number that is twice as high as the region was expected to support. All of this traffic has caused UNESCO to caution conservation officials in Tanzania that they may be forced to add the Crater to their “danger list”, which has raised some calls for quotas on the number of visitors allowed in each day.

I had the opportunity to visit Ngorngoro a couple of years back, and it was easily as spectacular as I had heard. The views from the crater rim are amazing, and there is wildlife at every turn. But I went in April, which is traditionally seen as the low season, and even then it was crowded and busy by mid-morning. I remember thinking to myself that if this was the low season, I wouldn’t want to experience it in the busier times.