7 Jun 2019

Bumper breeding season at Tanzania’s ‘Flamingo Factory’ lake

Researchers at Lake Natron reported a 130% increase in the number of adults and a 600% increase in chicks since last year. Could this be thanks to the efforts of local people?

Lake Natron's hot, alkaline water is deadly to most other animals © Christoph Strässler
Lake Natron's hot, alkaline water is deadly to most other animals © Christoph Strässler
By Ken Mwathe & Emmanuel Mgimwa

Great news from Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, the world’s most important breeding site for the Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor (Near Threatened).  BirdLife, in collaboration with Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and the Engaresero Eramatare Community Development Initiative (EECDI), conducted a survey in February 2019 and are now reporting an impressive breeding season.

“This year, we counted over 1,750,000 adult birds compared to 760,000 last year, which is an increase of 130%. The number of chicks increased by over 600% from 120,000 in 2018 to 995,000 in 2019,” says Emmanuel Mgimwa, BirdLife’s Manager of the Lake Natron Ecotourism Project*.

This bumper year could be attributed to good weather conditions, but may also be thanks to the the support of local communities, who are restoring water catchments to create ideal breeding habitats. In 2018, the Government of Tanzania ruled against building a soda ash factory on the site, securing its safety. Since then, it has shown continued commitment to maintain the integrity of Lake Natron as a flamingo breeding site.

Volunteers from the local community participated in the waterbird count © Emmanuel Mgimwa

“Lake Natron is the most important and regular breeding site for lesser flamingos in East Africa and globally and regular monitoring is vital. TAWIRI is delighted to be collaborating with BirdLife International in this exercise,” says Dr. Ally Nkwabi, the National Waterbird Count Coordinator who is based at TAWIRI.

“Working collaboratively is yielding great results for Lake Natron,” says Stephano Sarayan, Chair of EECDI. “We are working with government agencies at district, regional and national to maintain the integrity of Lake Natron and to promote ecotourism as a viable source of livelihoods. Last year, we planted 5,800 seedlings to rehabilitate Lake Natron catchments, and 90 per cent of them have survived”.

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Teams comprising of local communities, EECDI and BirdLife, working in collaboration with TAWIRI, count flamingos and other waterbirds once a year to monitor the ecological condition of the lake and as part of the Lake Natron Ecotourism Project.

As well as from ecological monitoring, the Lake Natron Ecotourism Project has supported the preparation of a Tourism Development Plan to guide ecotourism investment in the area. Over 152 women, 29 men and 71 youth have been trained in ecotourism management and how to run small businesses. The project will soon roll out a revolving fund to support small-scale entrepreneurs.

Maasai women have set up two stands to sell beadwork to tourists © Emmanuel Mgimwa

Mama Esuphat Ngoyasi, the Chairperson of Ngare Sero Women, says: “We feel empowered and thank BirdLife International and the Government for investing in women. We now have space to comfortably sell our beadwork to tourists. The women of Lake Natron are starting to enjoy the fruits of conservation”.

As the world celebrates World Migratory Bird Day this year, it is reassuring to note that when governments, donors and civil society groups work together, then can create a world where nature and people thrive side by side.


*The Lake Natron Ecotourism Project is funded by the UK Government Darwin Initiative.