Does the water burn? Yes.
Like Lake Natron, one of the key breeding areas for the lesser flamingoes, this lake has a pH level of 10.5. These waters are so alkaline that it can burn the skin and eyes of creatures that are not adapted to this environment.
Some of the most famous photographs of flamingos from this kind of lake are probably those by Nick Brandt, who had photographed these birds that had seemingly ‘turned to stone’ by these caustic waters. They hadn’t, of course, because these birds are one of the few organisms in the world that can actually flourish in such extreme conditions. What he did, however, was find many dead flamingoes around the shore, of which there were many. He couldn’t find out what had caused such mass deaths. He then meticulously bent and shaped the corpses into live positions, and place them on the water in their petrified positions. That’s one way to celebrate life, I suppose… but the images he captured? They are brilliant.
Finding many dead flamingoes around the shore was also something I witnessed at Lake Bogoria. I saw hundreds of lifeless flamingo bodies swept onto the shore- a terrible sight, like a scene from a horror movie- wings caught on acacia thorn branches and hanging upside down in contorted positions above the calm waters, limp carcasses strewn along the shore, rotting in the 40C sun, while the smell of sodium carbonate permeated the air. Same phenomenon as what Nick Brandt saw? Probably. The head warden of this park couldn’t explain why. Water levels? pH level disruption? Contaminants? No-one really knows.
What we do know is that perhaps the biggest threat to lakes of this kind is soda ash extraction, which I have posted about before. In Tanzania’s development plans, they are set to build plants around Lake Natron, where over half of the world’s lesser flamingo population are born. Like Lake Magadi, soda ash projects contributed greatly towards the economic development, though sadly, the population of these birds there is now minimal. The environment around Magadi exudes a commercial and industrial feel, and Orwellian multi-level dormitories for the factory workers are scattered in the surrounds. This is no place for any bird, let alone a threatened species.
There are many factors impacting on the lesser flamingo and its habitats. IUCN ranks them as near threatened. Here’s hoping that Brandt’s photos do not foreshadow things to come for this fragile bird.