Soda ash mining threatens the entire species
Attempts to extract sodium carbonate (a useful industrial material known as soda ash) from Lake Natron represents another danger. Mining would disturb the birds, who like privacy when breeding and tend to nest far from shore, on remote islands that have been isolated by flooding. It would also make the water more choppy, affecting their food gathering.
Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / shutterstock
Given how slow flamingos are at adapting and changing to new nesting areas, any Natron development must be avoided. Anthropogenic disturbances have previously caused lesser flamingos to abandon suitable breeding sites, and back in 1993, polluted water in Lake Bogoria and nearby Nakuru killed more than 20,000 lesser flamingos – the first of a series of recurring deaths.
The latest mining proposal has been withdrawn but such developments haven’t been completely shelved. Conservation groups remain alert. Monitoring and protecting the population at Lake Natron is the top priority for lesser flamingo conservation, according to a recent assessment by BirdLife International. Large-scale soda ash extraction, the report says, would be “disastrous for the species” and could see the flamingos become officially “vulnerable” or even “endangered”.
The importance of these unique, and apparently hostile, wetlands is clear to see. Life in the Rift Valley lakes is a delicate balance. And it is clear that we are already harming these unique and fragile ecosystems. If humans were to cause drastic changes, their spectacular pink inhabitants would vanish forever.