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    Oldoinyo Lengai Updates
    December 2018
    M T W T F S S

    Oldoinyo Lengai sits within an extremely feature-rich safari destination in northern Tanzania. Visitors to this area are well advised to take advantage of the proximity of access to a range of fascinating attractions and sites.

    Lake Natron Wetlands and Wildlife


    Lake Natron is a shallow lake fed by the Ewaso Ngiro River and mineral-rich hot springs whose depth and width varies with the rate of evaporation. The lake has no outlet, and has high concentrations of salt and other minerals. Temperatures in the lake can reach 50 °C, and depending on rainfall, the alkalinity can reach a pH of 9 to 10.5 (similar to ammonia). The lake is designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.


    The lake’s colour is characteristic of high rates of evaporation; as the water levels fall the salinity levels rise, favouring the growth of halophile micro-organisms like cyanobacteria, whose photosynthesizing pigments produce the deep reds and oranges of the lake.


    Lake Natron is an important habitat for flamingos and is home to endemic algae, invertebrates and even fish.

    The lake is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for 2.5 million Lesser Flamingos, whose status of “near threatened” is a consequence of their dependence on the single breeding location. As salinity increases, so do the number of cyanobacteria, and the lake can support more breeding pairs. These flamingos, the single largest flock in East Africa, feed on Spirulina (a blue-green algae with red pigments). Lake Natron is a safe breeding location because its caustic shoreline is a barrier against predators trying to reach their nests on seasonally-forming islands. Greater Flamingos also breed on the mud flats.

    Even more amazing than the ability of these pink flamingos to live in these conditions is the fact that three species of alkaline tilapias thrive in the waters at the edges of the hot spring inlets. Alcolapia latilabris and Alcolapia ndalalani are only found in Lake Natron;  Alcolapia alcalica is present in  the Shombole swamps, and has also been introduced to Lake Nakuru.

    Lake Natron Footprints

    The Lake Natron footprints are located in northern Tanzania along the East African Rift escarpment. The site is positioned south of Lake Natron within an ephemeral channel of the Engare Sero River. The hominid footprints are preserved in a tufa, which originated from one of the volcanic centers surrounding the site. The site is significant as it is the oldest modern human trackway in East Africa and one of the largest collections of hominid footprints in the world. They were discovered in 1998 by a local Maasai and are estimated to represent 18 individuals, mainly women and children who walked together on the shores of Lake Natron reportedly 120,000 years ago.

    Ngorongoro Highlands

    The Ngorongoro Highlands are a unique conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as land in the conservation area is multi-use, providing protection for wildlife whilst allowing human habitation.

    The Highlands are home to approximately 25,000 large animals, and are the origin of the great Wildebeest migrations, which may account for the reputation of the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa.  Resident animals include black and white rhinoceros, hippopotamus, zebra, eland, Grant’s & Thompson’s gazelles, a well as the densest known population of lions, as well as leopards, elephants, mountain reedbuck, waterbuck and buffalo, as well as hartebeest, spotted hyenas, jackals, cheetahs. Sightings of African Wild dog are now extremely rare.

     The main feature of the Highlands is the Ngorongoro Crater, a large, unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago, is 610 m (2,000 ft) deep and its floor covers 260 km2 (100 sq mi). Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from fifteen to nineteen thousand feet (4500 to 5800 metres) high; similar to that of Kilimanjaro.

    A side effect of this natural enclosure is the significantly restricted genetic material of the population of Ngorongoro lions, with many congenital problems passed from generation to generation. This is due to the very small amount of new bloodlines that enter the local gene pool, as very few migrating male lions enter the crater from the outside. Those that enter the crater are often prevented from contributing to the gene pool by the crater’s large, well-fed male lions, who easily expel any outside competitors.

    East African Rift Escarpment

    Joseph Thomson described the valley in 1883:

    “Imagine if you can a trough or depression 3300 feet above sea level, and twenty miles broad, the mountains rising with very great abruptness on both sides to a height of 9000 feet”. 

    This linear valley has parallel and almost vertical sides and includes a number of active and dormant volcanoes, and the rapidly eroding highlands have filled the valley with sediments, a favorable environment for the preservation of remains has been created. The bones of several hominid ancestors of modern humans have been found.


    Ngare Sero Gorge & Waterfalls

    The Ngare Sero River arises in the Ngorongoro Highlands, and travels north east for 3-4 Km, descending in a series of picturesque waterfalls that are a tranquil location for post-climb relaxation.  The warm, mineral-rich water forms a series of pools that are ideal for bathing and the easily-forded rapids allow a pleasant walk up to the first of the waterfalls.  For the adventurous, there is a second set of waterfalls further up-river that can be reached after a day’s journey.

    Maasai Boma Visits

    The Maasai are a group of semi-nomadic people indigenous to northern Tanzania and Kenya, and have the right of free travel across the border, as well as residency within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; and they are probably the most well-known African ethnic group in the world.

    The Maasai were known as fierce warriors, and lived alongside most wild animals, subsisting exclusively on cattle. Their strength and reputation kept the newly arrived Europeans from exploiting the animals and resources of most of their land.

    The Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, but the people have continued their age-old customs. Recently, Oxfam claimed that the lifestyle of the Maasai should be embraced as a response to climate change due to their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands. Many Maasai tribes throughout Tanzania and Kenya welcome visits to their village to experience their culture, traditions, and lifestyle.

    The culture of the Maasai is intricate and fascinating. Roles are determined by age, wealth and position in the community. Men are warriors and herders, and cattle plays a central role in their lives. The more cattle, the wealthier the warrior and his wealth then enables him to take multiple wives. Herds are large and warriors constantly wander on the mountain and surrounding plains seeking pasture for their animals – often camping out.

    Maasai families live in small traditional bomas which the women make from mud, sticks, grass and cow dung, and are just large enough for sleeping and cooking. Women leave them at dawn each day to fetch firewood and water. Children spend their days playing around the boma and are taught to tend livestock while still very young. To help them grow strong, children are given a mixture of cow’s milk, blood and urine.


    Maasai Festivals

    The Maasai have many rituals and ceremonies, including Eunoto, the warrior-shaving ceremony; Eokoto e-kule, the milk-drinking ceremony, and Enkang oo-nkiri, the meat-eating ceremony.


    The Eunoto ceremony marks the rite of passage of a warrior transitioning to a senior warrior, and is performed about ten years after warriorhood, and allows senior warriors to marry and father children.

    The ceremony takes place in another specially chosen camp of forty-nine houses, the last of which is known as Osinkira, a large mud hut made specificaly for the Oloiboni (prophet), whom the warriors entertain on a daily basis until the event is over. Every graduating warrior must shave his long ochre-stained hair, which is done by the warrior’s mother. During the festival, warriors are prohibited to carry weapons such as sticks, spears, knives, etc. Also, during this event, an animal horn is set on fire and warriors are forced to take a piece out before it is completely burned. No one wants to take the piece out, because whoever takes the horn out of the fire will suffer misfortunate throughout his entire life. However, if warriors refuse to take the horn out from the fire, the entire age-set will be cursed. It is better for one person to be unfortunate than many.

    Enkang e-kul

    A few months after Eunoto, warriors form a small camp for Enkang e-kule, the milk ceremony. Before the ceremony, warriors are prohibited to eat alone without the company of others. Excuses are not accepted; even the sick must obey the requirement.  To drink outside the camp is allowed but only if women are not present. Such social taboos are established by the Maasai to teach young men to be self-reliant, and to train and prepare warriors to adapt to harsh environmental conditions such as famine etc.

    Enkang oo-nkir

    The next initiation is the Enkang oo-nkiri meat ceremony. Every graduating warrior is anxious to see this date. A specially chosen bull is slaughtered for the ceremony, whose hide is used in determining a wife’s fidelity. At the end of the meat ceremony, men and women fight against one another for the specially roasted meat.