Ngorongoro Crater

Animals In Ngorongoro Crater – What Awesome Sights You Can Expect To See

There Are Some Remarkable Animals In Ngorongoro Crater

One of the most popular National Parks in Tanzania for safari tours is the Ngorongoro Crater, part of the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  What makes this park so special for safaris is that there are 115 different species of animals in the Crater and surrounding Conservation Area.

We spent several hours down in the caldera taking in the amazing number of animals. This blog details our day there and the extensive number of animals in Ngorongoro Crater you can expect to see while there.

Highlights About The Animals In Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Facts

Ngorongoro Crater is said to be the world’s largest unbroken caldera, formed over 2.5 million years ago by a volcanic eruption which caused the volcano’s cone to collapse leaving the present crater in its place.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Size

The caldera is between 16 and 19 kilometres (10 and 12 miles) across and has an area of approximately 264 square kilometres (102 square miles.  It is also 600 metres (2000 feet) deep at its highest point

There is a lake in the crater that covers 7 square miles and is considered a “soda lake” similar to Lake Manyara. The lake is called Lake Magadi – magadi being the Swahili name for soda.  This alkaline lake is a major reason that Ngorongoro Crater is part of the annual migration.

Lake Magadi

Ngorongoro Crater is part of the surrounding Ngorongoro Conservation Area which also includes some of humankind’s oldest archaeological discoveries. The nearby Olduvai Gorge, made famous by the archeological findings of Dr. Mary and Louis Leakey, is where some of the oldest known human fossils have been found.

The area now known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was originally part of the Serengeti Plains National Park when it was formed in 1951 to protect wildlife against poaching.

Inside the Ngorongoro Crater

In 1959, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was officially established to promote natural resource conservation, protect native interests, and encourage ecotourism.   The Conservation Area is a total of 8200 square kilometres (3166 square miles).

Map Of Ngorongoro Crater

Map of Ngorongoro Crater

What Is Special About The Ngorongoro Crater?

There are so many things that are special about Ngorongoro Crater! One of the main reasons that it is so special is that it has several UNESCO designations.

First of all, along with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 for its land use policies and the protection of its natural and cultural resources. 

Then, in 1981 it was designated a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve because of the presence of globally threatened species, the density of its wildlife and the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles.

Zebra in Ngorongoro Crater

Since 2013, Ngorongoro has been considered one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders along with Mount Kilimanjaro and Serengeti National Park mainly because Ngorongoro Crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world.  This contributed to its inclusion as a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2018.

✅ Looking for information on other National Parks in Tanzania? Check out our blog on Tarangire National Park.

Our Ngorongoro Crater Experience

We started our Ngorongoro Crater experience on our way back to Arusha from Serengeti National Park.  The crater is about a 2-hour drive from the main gate of Serengeti and about a 3 1/2-hour drive to Arusha.

We arrived at the main entrance to Ngorongoro Crater around 2:00pm, and before entering the park, we stopped to get some pictures from the wonderful viewpoint overlooking the caldera and the lake below. 

Our photo from the top of the caldera
Cacti in Ngorongoro Crater

We could clearly see across the rim of the caldera circling the basin with the farthest edge approximately 16 kilometres away.  Even from this distance, we were able to make out some of the wildlife that was grazing in the basin and around the lake.

Animals grazing in the caldera

We started our descent into the basin along a one-way cobblestone road that winds around the edge of the caldera to the bottom which is 600 metres below the rim. 

Once we reached the bottom, the basin was quite flat and the hard-packed dirt trails broke off in different directions around the crater.  Because the crater is so flat at the bottom, it is easy to see wildlife in virtually every direction you look.  You just need to decide which group of animals you want to see first.

Zebra in the Ngorongoro Crater

We opted to start out in an open area close to the middle of the basin.  Here we were able to get quite close to a group of Thompson Gazelle with a small herd of zebra a dozen or so metres behind them.  The gazelle were grazing on the lush grass at the edge of a rock pile.

Thompson Gazelle

A bit further on we came across a pair of hairy warthogs, one with long tusks, rummaging around in the short grass.  We had seen warthogs in a couple of the other parks, but none were as close as the ones here in Ngorongoro.  Their distinctive large heads with long snouts make them easy to spot, even from a distance.

Warthog

Not much further on we were graced with the presence of a small group of Grey Crowned Cranes.  These large, beautiful birds, with a wingspan of up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) are an endangered species due to receding wetlands, so it was nice to see them surviving here in Ngorongoro.

Grey-crowned cranes

As we approached one end of the lake, we could hear a raucous noise getting louder the closer we got.  It became apparent that the noise was coming from a mass of pink and white Flamingos, numbering in the hundreds that were squawking and splashing in the shallow waters at the edge of the lake. 

100s of flamingos

Apparently, the pink colour in their feathers is caused by the carotenoids in the microscopic algae that flamingos eat. 

Greater flamingos

After spending some time with the flamingos, we carried on around the lake and happened on a rather endearing scene of three young lions lying together just off the trail.  Two were lying on their sides while a third one was on his back with a raised foot resting on the neck of one of his mates. We honestly never tired of seeing the lions every day.

Lions

Our next stop took us to a small pond where we found a group of hippos enjoying the waters at the edge of the pond.  On top of one of the hippos was a large water bird, using the hippo’s back as a vantage point to gaze around.

Hippo with bird on his back

Continuing around the lake we saw a beautiful Kori Bustard which is the largest flying bird native to Africa.  It was strutting in the plains with its gorgeous head bobbing proudly as it marched along.

Kori bustard

One of our last sightings of the day allowed us to capture some very close-up photos of a mean-looking hyena skulking in the grasses.  We had seen hyenas in Serengeti, but none as close as this specimen in Ngorongoro.

Hyenas

We were closing in on the end of our day in Ngorongoro, but we still hadn’t seen one of the key animals that Ngorongoro is noted for – the elusive Black Rhino – known as the most dangerous animals in Ngorongoro Crater.  Our guide was scouring the landscape, determined that we would get a glimpse of this rare mammal. 

Finally, he turned the vehicle onto a tributary of the trail we were on and drove a few hundred meters to a location that looked over the plains toward a wooded area on the left.  In the background, we could make out some elephants and wildebeest and another large animal that was initially indistinguishable. 

With the help of binoculars and telephoto lenses, we were able to confirm that this was indeed a Rhino.  In fact, there were a couple of rhinos that we could make out once we realized what we were looking at.  This sighting completed our list of Big 5 animals that we had seen on our 10-day Tanzanian safari, and we were thrilled!

The Black Rhino is one of the animals in the Ngorongoro Crater

List Of Animal Sightings In Ngorongoro Crater

We spent 4 hours on our tour of Ngorongoro Crater and we were quite impressed with the sheer number of animals in the park.  Here is the list of wildlife that we spent time with at Ngorongoro. There were likely more but by this time in our trip we were mostly focussed on capturing a list of animals that we hadn’t previously seen.

LionsImpala
HipposGreater Flamingos
ZebraSacred Ibis
ElephantsGrey Crowned Crane
BuffaloAfrican Jicama
WildebeestKori Bustard
WarthogBlack Rhino
Augur BuzzardHyena
Thompson Gazelle

How Many Animals In Ngorongoro Crater?

One of the highlights of Ngorongoro Crater is that it has a high density of wildlife in the confines of the caldera.  In fact, there are 115 different species of animals and 500 species of birds in the area with more than 25,000 animals that frequent the crater

What’s more, the Ngorongoro Crater is one of the few places in all of Africa where you are likely to see all of the Big 5 mammals in one park. 

Additionally, it has the densest known population of lions per square kilometre in Africa.

What Are The Big Five Animals In Ngorongoro Crater?

Ngorongoro Crater is said to be one of the few places in Africa where you are likely to spot all of the “Big 5”.  But what are the Big 5?

Well, the Big 5 were originally defined as being the most difficult and dangerous mammals to hunt during the Big Game drives of the early 20th century.  They are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. 

But did you know that there is another group of African animals called the Spectacular Seven?  This group contains all of the Big 5, but adds the giraffe and hippopotamus to the group.  Unfortunately, there are no giraffes in Ngorongoro Crater.  This is because the descent from the rim of the caldera is too steep for these towering giants.

Can Animals Get Out Of Ngorongoro Crater?

This was a question that we had when entering the crater and we were advised by our guide that yes, the animals can leave the Ngorongoro Crater if they wished. But for the most part, they stay in the area as it typically provides enough food and water for their survival.

Are There Crocodiles In Ngorongoro Crater?

Many people wonder if there are crocodiles in Ngorongoro Crater since it is home to so much other wildlife.  The answer is no.  Crocodiles don’t live in the Ngorongoro Crater because of the lack of their required habitat.

The Final Word…Animals In Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater and the Conservation Area surrounding it is considered to be one of the great wonders of the African continent, and by many, one of the wonders of the world. 

If you (like us) are fascinated by wildlife and spectacular landscapes, then this is certainly a place you will want to go.  Even more so if you would like to experience the thrill of photographing the Big 5 mammals of Africa.  This is one of the few places in the world where all 5 exist in the same park.

The relatively small size of the park means you don’t have to go far to get your animal sightings either.  In fact, at 264 square kilometres (102 square miles), Ngorongoro Crater is the 2nd smallest of Tanzania’s 14 National Parks. 

So, if you are short on time, or you just want to enjoy some great wildlife photo opportunities, this is one park you definitely want to put on your bucket list.  With its high concentration of animals and birds, you are guaranteed to have a great safari experience.

Our selfie at the Ngorongoro Crater