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World Heritage Site

Africa's UNESCO Ngorongoro Conservation Area faces significant ecological threats

Adam Ihucha  May 04, 2009

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has raised a red flag against Ngorongoro Conservation Area, located in Northern Tanzania, threatening to remove it from the list of the World Heritage sites, over the territory's ecological deterioration.

An increase in human activities, not compatible with conservation interests within the NCA and its legendary crater located in northern Tanzania, is the reason behind the mess.

UNESCO had declared the Ngorongoro crater as a Natural World Heritage Site way back in 1979, twenty years after the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) was established in 1959, with an eye to protect an area covering 8,300 square kilometers.

According to UNESCO's latest exclusive report of the reactive monitoring mission, the popular tourist site in the country seems to have fallen from grace as far as both international conservationists and green activists are concerned.

UNESCO is not happy with the cultivation activities within the NCA, traffic congestion into the crater, proposed major hotel constructions on the rim of the crater, and mass tourism policy.

The crater, with 250 square km, receives nearly 300 vehicles per day during the high season; something which experts say is unhealthy for the site ecology.

"The anticipated growth in tourism to Tanzania, and conservation area in particular, poses significant challenges for NCAA" reads part of the UNSECO report, suggesting that it was important to be ahead of the curve and to develop a tourism strategy that will enable the NCAA to proactively manage tourism.

The UNESCO considers that key elements of this strategy should include a focus on encouraging quality rather than mass tourism, major development, and infrastructures associated with tourism outside the conservation area.

The UN body is also concerned with erosion associated with cattle access into the crater, demanding NCAA in close collaboration with the Maasai people and Pastrol Council to explore alternatives to limit or stop livestock grazing in the crater.

"Although the properties are not in danger, within the context of the World Heritage operation guidelines, they are certainly facing significant threats" UNESCO's report reads. So serious is the situation, that the NCAA is currently making all means necessary to rescue the site from loosing such an important designation.

Bernard Murunya, the NCAA acting conservationist explained that UNESCO is up in arms and already inscribed the site on the list of World Heritage in danger due to growing human undertakings within the territory reserved for natural vegetation growth and wild animals.

Briefing a visiting parliamentary committee on land, natural resources, and environment, Murunya said his authority has already started addressing the problem highlighted by UNESCO's comprehensive report.

According to the NCAA boss, the immigrant's families have been settled at the sparsely-populated Oldonyo Sambu area near Loliondo Township, which is the headquarters of the vast Ngorongoro district.

The most probable of contentious eviction of immigrants pastoralists and their livestock herds has been hampered by the lack of the necessary infrastructure in the new land where they would be shifted.

So far, 538 people have voluntarily shifted to their new village, and plans are underway to relocate the NCAA staff from within the conservation area to Kamyn Estate, nearly 5km from Lodoare Gate, within an area of 435 acres.

The 300 families moved out are those of people found to have shifted to NCA after 1975 when the government stopped additional people from settling there permanently and prohibited mechanized farming.

The measure is to reduce the human population in the entire NCA ecosystem, which experts say, was too fragile for increased human activities.

Available statistics indicate that the 8,292 square kilometers of NCA has a human population of over 64,842 people, 13,650 head of cattle, and 19,305 goats and sheep, making the area overpopulated.

Experts fear that increased human and livestock population, coupled with activities, would put pressure on the fragile ecology of the area, which is famous for natural and cultural heritage sites.

These include the Ngorongoro crater, Olduvai, and Laetoli archaeological sites, montane forests, and several crater lakes. Murunya say NCA, one of the leading tourist's attractions in the country, can support only 25,000 people if it is to remain ecologically stable for many years to come.

"From now, livestock would not be allowed to descend into the legendary crater for grazing," the NCAA chief said, explaining that also no construction of new hotels will be permitted within NCAA and especially around the crater rim.

One of the local Laigwanans in Ngorongoro, Matengoe Ole Tawo said that during their early days, there were plenty of wild animals, but surprisingly when the modern conservation initiative began, animals started decreasing.

"We are witnessing our wild animals despairing at alarming proportions, and this is [a] bad signal for us," Ole Tawo said, stressing that the modern conservation initiative should borrow a leaf from the indigenous conservationists.

The chairman for the parliamentary committee on land, natural resources, and environment, Job Ndugai, said they were taking stock of the problem confronting the NCA and will advise the government on how best it can rescue the site from loosing its old glory.

"If UNESCO remove[s] the NCA from the list of the World Heritage sites, no tourists will come to visit the place, so it is important to comply with their guidelines," Ndugai said. On his part, the deputy minister for natural resources and tourism, Ezekiel Maige, implored the Maasai community living within the NCA to maintain their culture of living together with wild animals in harmony.

Called the eighth wonder of the world and stretching across some 8,300 sq. km., the NCA in northern Tanzania boasts a blend of landscapes, wildlife, people, and archaeology that is unsurpassed in Africa.

The volcanoes, grasslands, waterfalls, and mountain forests are home to an abundance of animals and to the Maasai. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the world's greatest natural spectacles; its magical setting and abundant wildlife never fail to enthrall visitors. It borders the Serengeti National Park to the north and west.

Africa's UNESCO Ngorongoro Conservation Area faces significant ecological threats
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