Lake Natron: A Deadly Body of Water Where Lesser Flamingos Thrive

Lesser flamingos at Lake Natron, Tanzania (Image: Christoph Strässler. Lesser flamingos at Lake Natron, Tanzania)

Tanzania’s Lake Natron is like hell on earth. Its waters are incredibly salty, with a pH similar to that of ammonia. Taking a swim would be nothing short of insanity, and the animals that do venture close enough to the lake to die along its shores can become almost calcified. Factor in the lake’s nightmarish red colour – a product of the cyanobacteria that flourishes there – and you have a location that looks like something out of a ghastly dream.

Photographer Nick Brandt, who documented the lake in his haunting series titled The Calcified, told Smithsonian Magazine: “It was amazing. I saw entire flocks of dead birds all washed ashore together, lemming-like.” He added: “You’d literally get, say, a hundred finches washed ashore in a 50-yard stretch.”

Lake Natron, Tanzania (Image: NASA)

But there’s more to Lake Natron, which lies in Tanzania’s northern Arusha Region, than meets the eye. Every year it serves as the breeding ground of about 75 percent of the world’s lesser flamingos. The cyanobacteria, called spirulina, makes up a major part of the flamingos’ diet, and also gives them their distinctive pink colour.

What’s more, since the water birds are practically immune to the unusually caustic waters, they’re able to wade through shallows and leave potential predators behind. According to the Mother Nature Network, somewhere in the region of 2.5 million lesser flamingos converge on Lake Natron every year.

Ol Doinyo Lengai from Lake Natron (Image: Clem23. Ol Doinyo Lengai from Lake Natron)

Unfortunately, mankind might now be infringing on this incredible spectacle. Even though the species is considered “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, plans have been made to build industrial plants that will harvest the salt lake’s unique natural resources.

While those plans have been defeated, it’s unclear for how long. As MNN reported in October 2016: “Despite this victory, the flamingos remain in a precarious position as the forces of climate change and human encroachment loom.”

Lesser flamingos in Tanzania (Image: Charles J Sharp. Lesser flamingos in Tanzania)

“About 32 percent of Tanzania’s land is protected (the average for developing countries is just 13 percent), but Lake Natron’s only designation is that of a “Wetland of International Importance” — a title that holds no enforceable policy power.”

Read Next: Skeleton Lake: The Terrifying Fate of India’s Ancient Pilgrims



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