Imagine seeing upwards of a million and a half vibrant-colored flamingos congregated on the shores of a single lake.
Well, it’s not an uncommon occurrence in the Kenyan Lake System of the Great Rift Valley. The Kenyan landscape is dotted with 64 lakes. And nestled near the equator are three special lakes - Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Elementatia. These lakes aren’t particularly large, and they’re relatively shallow, but together these interlinked lakes comprise one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. A grateful thank you to Michael Douroux for this lovely little video of flamingos on Lake Nakuru.
These highly alkaline lakes have an abundant growth of green algae, which feeds an amazing number of birds. People come from all over the world to watch the flamingos’ majestic feeding frenzy take place.
The Landscape - In 2011, the Kenyan Lake system was designated a World Heritage Site. The protected property covers a relatively small area of 32,000 hectares, but is an essential feeding ground for hundreds of different species of birds.
Major tectonic and volcanic events helped shape the diverse landscape. The lakes are surrounded by hot springs, geysers, volcanic outcrops, forests, and open grasslands. The lakes are located at an altitude of around 1500 meters, so they have a high rate of evaporation. This can cause marked fluctuations in water levels. While the flamingos may be the premier event, the protected area also boasts a number of other impressive animals. Black and white rhinos, Rothschild’s giraffes, greater kudus, lions, cheetahs and wild dogs also roam the area.
Rothschild's GiraffeA Bird Paradise - The diversity of birdlife in the region is amazing. There are as many as 480 bird species at Lake Nakuru, 450 species at Lake Elementaita and 370 at Lake Bogoria. The area is home to 13 globally threatened bird species. The lake system is the most important foraging site in the world for the lesser flamingo. Lesser flamingos are the smallest species of flamingos, with a standing height around 80-90cm (31-35in). They’re classified as near-threatened, so if you want to see them in large numbers, the lakes are a prime spot. Much of the year up to four million lesser flamingos move between the three lakes taking advantage of the plentiful green algae, which are an important food source for them. Although, the algae are blue-green in color, they contain photosynthetic pigments that give the birds their distinct pink color. Greater Flamingos are also found in large numbers in the area. They’re bigger than their cousins at 110-150cm tall (43-60in), and they have a distinctive black spot on the tip of their bills.
Lake Elementaita supports the region’s main breeding colony of Great White Pelicans with around 8,000 pairs. Great White Pelicans are among the largest birds on earth with an awe-inspiring wingspan of 226 to 369cm (7- nearly 12 ft.).
- Black-Necked Grebes,
- African Spoonbills,
- Pied Avocets,
- Little Grebes,
- Yellow Billed Storks, and
- Black Winged Stilts.
The Black Winged Stilt
The Usual Threats - Even though the lakes enjoy protection as a World Heritage Site, there are still some dangers. As with many places of natural beauty, the region is surrounded by an area of rapidly growing population and the many ill-effects that come with that. Soil erosion, increased abstraction of water from the catchments, deforestation, growth in human settlements, overgrazing, tourism and pollution are all potential problems that must be watched to ensure this majestic place remains welcoming to the birds and other rare wildlife.
The Kisii - How about a little piece of the Great Rift Valley for your home? Not far from the Kenyan Lake System, live the Kisii people, who are known for their soapstones. Kisii soapstone is a metamorphic rock that’s soft and easy to work with. For generations, the Kisii people have handcrafted carvings out of this soapstone—making both functional items and beautiful works of art. You can check out our extensive to see just how these talented carvers apply their craft.