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Location Kenya, Rift Valley Province
Central coordinates 36o 17.00' East  1o 52.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 10,500 ha
Altitude 580 m
Year of IBA assessment 2001


Site description This is a shallow alkaline lake, its surface largely covered by crusts of sodium carbonate, 85 km south-west of Nairobi in a low-lying basin on the floor of the Rift Valley. Extensive surface water is present only after heavy rains over the local catchment, when run-off reaches the northern end of the lake via three wadis. Most of the lake is a vast expanse of solid sodium carbonate (trona) and allied salts, some 15–30 m thick. This is mined by the Magadi Soda company, whose factory and associated town are on the north-eastern shore. The lake’s main basin is 29 km wide and oriented almost due north-south; the north-west arm is 12 km long and 2.5 km wide. The lake is surrounded and fed with water by a number of hot springs that feed shallow, permanent lagoons at the northern, southern and western extremities (other springs well up invisibly below the surface). These warm lagoons are carpeted with cyanophytes, which are grazed upon by shoals of the fish Oreochromis alcalicus grahami. The climate is inhospitably hot and arid (mean maximum temperatures c.35°C, rainfall c.400 mm/year), and the vegetation surrounding the lake is sparse, open bushland.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. Bird life is concentrated at the lagoons. Phoenicopterus minor is often present in internationally important numbers (mean January count, 1994–2001 (seven years): 23,250), though Magadi is a much less significant feeding site for this species than Bogoria (IBA KE045) or Nakuru (KE049). Very large numbers of this species may breed here on rare occasions, perhaps once a century: the last such event was in July 1962, when over a million pairs were nesting. A good variety of other waterbirds is present, including a sizeable resident population of Charadrius pallidus (mean count 1994–2001: 420). Mean total waterbird numbers in January for between 1994–2001 were 25,800. Other birds nesting at Magadi include Platalea alba, Anas capensis, Recurvirostra avocetta and Himantopus himantopus. Many Palearctic migrant waders winter here too, notably Calidris minuta. The bushland around the lake supports 28 of Kenya’s 94 Somali–Masai biome species. Casmerodius albus, a regionally threatened species, is an occasional visitor.

Non-bird biodiversity: The cichlid fish Oreochromis alcalicus grahami, endemic to alkaline lakes in this part of the Rift Valley, is abundant in the hot springs. The springs also contain a highly specialized microbial fauna, with several endemic species.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor winter  1994  50,000 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  1994  20,000-49,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

IBA Monitoring

2008 high near favourable low
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Agricultural expansion and intensification livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - nomadic grazing happening now whole area/population (>90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Climate change and severe weather drought happening now whole area/population (>90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Energy production and mining mining and quarrying happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Pollution garbage and solid waste happening now whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Pollution industrial and military effluents happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads happening now whole area/population (>90%) no or imperceptible deterioration low

Wetlands (inland)   0 0 good (> 90%) moderate (70-90%) near favourable

Most of site (50-90%) covered (including the most critical parts for important bird species)  No management planning has taken place  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  low 


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Saline lakes  100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
urban/industrial/transport -

References Bennun (1992a, 1993), Brown (1973), Crees (1985), Hughes and Hughes (1992), Nasirwa (1998), Nasirwa and Bennun (1994, 1995), Nasirwa and Owino (2000), Owino and Nasirwa (2001), Oyugi and Owino (1998a,b, 1999).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Magadi. Downloaded from on 27/11/2014

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