Tourists or Travelers? The struggle we faced in the Ngorongoro Crater

January 15

Today we were tourists, which was a bit discomforting to all of us. Throughout the trip thus far we have identified ourselves as travelers or cultural researchers and did not resonated with the label of tourist. Today was different. We loaded in the rangers at 6:00am and headed into the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the most popular tourist sites and most densely populated wildlife areas in Tanzania. We lined up alongside 30 or more other tourist safari jeeps and descended into the crater. The amount of wildlife that surrounded us was remarkable. Prides of 12 or more lions sauntered alongside the road and stopped to sip water from a puddle next to our jeep. Giant, majestic elephants sauntered across the road in front of us, unfazed by the group of tourists taking pictures with their selfie sticks.

While I enjoyed the animals and the beautiful landscape of the crater, it was difficult to fully appreciate this beauty after learning about how the Maasai were affected by the establishment of this tourist site. The Maasai had lived within the crater, but when the government decided to establish the area as a conservation area, the Maasai were evicted from their homes and forced to relocate to land along the rim. Within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area the Maasai livelihood has been compromised in the efforts to conserve wildlife biodiversity. They have been banned from cultivating their land and their herd sizes have been restricted. These restrictions have made it difficult for the Maasai to subsist within this area. After visiting the crater I was filled with conflicting emotions. This tourist site is greatly benefiting the Tanzanian economy as well as supporting the protection of endangered species, yet at the same time the Maasai who lived in this land have been removed and their livelihood is being challenged. It appeared that the tourism industry was partially responsible for the poor conditions of the Maasai and what made me uncomfortable was that I was participating in and supporting this industry.

Thankfully, we had a group discussion at the end of the evening that helped me work through my confusion and frustration. The issues of this course are complex and challenging…I guess that is why it’s a Paideia 450 class.

One of the many elephants seen in the Ngorongoro Crater.
The pride of lions that walked alongside and crossed in front of our jeep. They were unfazed by humans.
The rush of tourist jeeps at 6:00 am to enter the crater.