The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) is a protected area and a World Heritage Site located 180 km (110 mi) west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The area is named after Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area. The conservation area is administered by the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, an arm of the Tanzanian government, and its boundaries follow the boundary of the Ngorongoro Division of the Arusha Region.
The 2009 Ngorogoro Wildlife Conservation Act placed new restrictions on human settlement and subsidence farming in the Crater, displacing Maasai pastoralists, most of whom had been relocated to Ngorongoro from their ancestral lands to the north when the British colonial government established Serengeti National Park in 1959. The construction of luxury tourist hotels in the Conservation Area allows people to access "the unparalleled beauty of one of the world's most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries", according to a government brochure, even as thousands of Maasai have suffered forcible eviction and have been denied access to water sources for their livestock.
The name of the crater has an onomatopoeic origin; it was named by the Maasai pastoralists after the sound produced by the cowbell (ngoro ngoro). Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, various hominid species have occupied the area for 3 million years.
Hunter-gatherers were replaced by pastoralists a few thousand years ago. The Mbulu came to the area about 2,000 years ago and were joined by the Datooga around the year 1700. Both groups were driven from the area by the Maasai in the 1800s.
Massive fig trees in the northwest of the Lerai Forest are sacred to the Maasai and the Datooga. Some of them may have been planted on the grave of a Datago leader who died in battle with the Maasai around 1840.
No Europeans are known to have set foot in the Ngorongoro Crater until 1892, when it was visited by Oscar Baumann. Two German brothers (Adolph and Friedrich Siedentopf) farmed in the crater until the outbreak of World War I, after leasing the land from the administration of German East Africa. The brothers regularly organized shooting parties to entertain their German friends. They also attempted to drive the wildebeest herds out of the crater.
In 1921, the first game preservation ordinance was passed, which restricted hunting to permit holders throughout Tanzania. In 1928, hunting was prohibited on all land within the crater rim, except the former Siedentopf farms. The National Park Ordinance of 1948 (implemented in 1951) created the Serengeti National Park (SNP). This, however, caused problems with the Maasai and other tribes, resulting in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) Ordinance (1959) that separated the NCA from the SNP. Maasai pastoralists living in Serengeti National Park were systematically relocated to Ngorongoro, increasing the population of Maasai and livestock living in the Crater.:48 The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority was established by the Game Park Laws (miscellaneous amendments) Act, 1976 and owns the majority of NCA land, including the Crater. The area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 further restricted human use of Ngorongoro Crater and created a legal framework to politically disenfranchise and forcibly displace traditional pastoralists.
Land in the conservation area is multi-use and unique because it is the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while allowing human habitation. Land use is controlled to prevent negative effects on the wildlife population. For example, cultivation is prohibited at all but subsistence levels.
The area is part of the Serengeti ecosystem and, to the northwest, adjoins the SNP and is contiguous with the southern Serengeti plains. These plains also extend to the north into the unprotected Loliondo division and are kept open to wildlife through transhumance pastoralism practiced by the Maasai. The south and west of the area are volcanic highlands, including the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the lesser known Empakaa Crateri. The southern and eastern boundaries are approximately defined by the rim of the East African Rift wall, which also prevents animal migration in these directions..