Kenya: Business Unusual as Rising Lake Nakuru Water Drowns Life

10 September 2020

The pink birds are clearly in distress. The salty ribbon around the lake has disappeared, swallowed by relentless rising waters.

In the neighbouring lush grassland, buffalos stand in herds, except for one bouncing calf. From submerged homes, farms and vegetation at Lake Nakuru National Park, it is business unusual in Lake Nakuru, and the scenes of the swelling waters being witnessed are alarming.

It is a phenomenon that conservationists and researchers attribute to a 50-year cycle, which also happened in 1901 and 1963. Lake Nakuru was traditionally viewed as a flamingo resort par excellence, as millions of the birds could cover large swathes of the water body.

Few flamingos

But by the swelling shores, very few lesser flamingos now stand on their reed-thin legs with their long necks dropped down and heads inverted in the water.

Lake Nakuru Deputy Senior Warden Sirman Kioko says about two decades ago, up to two million lesser and greater flamingos (a third of the world's population) could flock the alkaline water to feed on the abundant blue-green algae cultivated by their own droppings.

However, rising water levels in recent years-also experienced in more than five other Rift Valley lakes-have caused a big drop in salinity, and the flamingos have migrated from Lake Nakuru and flocked elsewhere.

"Thousands of the flamingos migrated to other areas including Lake Bogoria, Elmenteita, Magadi and Natron (in Tanzania). The birds have been fleeing Lake Nakuru to other areas in search of food because the reduced salinity of the water, which has reduced growth of the blue-green algae, the flamingos' main food," said Mr Kioko.

"The water in Lake Nakuru is now too deep, and not saline enough to support the growth of the algae. The water deprives flamingos of their main food, spirulina," he added.

Wildlife researcher Joseph Omondi said flamingos eat insect larvae and algae that gives them their pink hue.

"High water levels shrink the birds' ideal breeding and feeding grounds," he said.

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