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13 Oct 2016

Irreplaceable - Lake Natron, Tanzania

lesser flamingo tanzania
© Andries Oudshoorn
By Zoltan Waliczky

Lake Natron is world famous for its breeding Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, of which about half a million pairs regularly visit the lake for nesting and raising their young. There are also large numbers of other waterbirds, both migratory and resident.  Lake Natron is a shallow highly-saline lake in a closed basin on the floor of the Eastern Rift Valley. It is 1,540 km2, but only 50 cm deep. The IBA is also a Ramsar Site (wetland of international importance) but has no national protection status.

 

Lesser flamingos at Lake Natron © Soaring Flamingo

 

The biggest threat to the lake comes from plans to open one or more mines to exploit the rich soda ash deposits of the lake. This would not only affect the water levels and quality, and hence the breeding flamingos and other waterbirds, but also nature tourism, which is an important income generator in the wider area. In 2007-09, BirdLife led a campaign with support from the the Lake Natron Consultative Group (a coalition of 56 institutions), which successfully defeated a large-scale soda ash plant development at the site. Since then, BirdLife has implemented projects aimed at improving local communities’ livelihoods and boosting tourism.

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Unfortunately, the lake is still not totally safe. Although the current government is in favour of conservation, the situation may change again in the future, so getting widespread support for conservation from local people is key to defending the lake from future attacks.