Flamingos flock to Lake Nakuru. Unbroken lines of pink snake along the lake’s shallows. From the nearby vantage point, Baboon Cliff, the water is often blotted out by the feeding and nesting birds. Occasionally, as many as two million flamingos concrete in Nakuru.
They jab their javelin-like legs into the water and bob along with an awkward strut. They plunge their beaks into the water and feast on the abundant algae that grows well in the warm lake. Pelicans, cormorants, terns, grebes and dozens of other species also populate the fruitful waters of Nakuru.
The wildlife sanctuary centered around the lake, Lake Nakuru National Park, houses lions, black and white rhino, giraffes and other African species. It is thought to contain more eastern black rhinos than any other Kenyan park.
Unfortunately, beauty and sanctity do not mean security. As of recent, Lake Nakuru and its wildlife have come under the threats of pollution and irregular water levels.
The study of limnology, or freshwater biology, reveals the general causes of Nakuru’s issues: human expansion and irresponsible deforestation.
Every natural source of water is fed by a watershed. A watershed is an area of land that feeds water to a body of water. Rainfall, runoff, groundwater, streams, etc. all contribute to the bounty a watershed sweeps into the area’s major body of water. . This means that anything that can be carried by water – natural debris, fine sediment and abhorrent chemicals – will reach the source to which the watershed contributes.
However, forests and grasslands form natural barriers that stop harmful debris from flowing into bodies of water. When removed, pollutants (chemicals, fertilizers, waste and more) are free to flow wherever they are carried.
Thus, the major reason behind the destruction of water environments is the polluting of watersheds caused by the destruction of natural barriers and filters.
The increase in tourism and human expansion has caused sweeping deforestation across Lake Nakuru’s watershed. New farms, settlements and roads now indirectly dump fertilizers, oils, fluids and wastes into the waters of Nakuru. The chemicals kill, poison and inhibit the growth of the algal plumes and small organisms (crustaceans, small fishes, etc.) on which the region’s iconic species rely.
Coupled with the deforestation of Nakuru’s watershed are the abnormal water levels the lake has faced in recent years. New, irrigated farms in the region prevent water from accessing the lake during the dry season and the lack of forestation allows high levels of water into the lake during the wet season. This change makes it difficult for the region’s flamingos to access the algae on which they rely because not enough grows in the dry season and the water is too deep too access the food source in the wet season.
As a result of the pollution, lack of food, mass die-offs and abnormal water levels, large numbers of Nakuru’s flamingos now migrate to neighboring lakes, Elmenteita, Simbi Nyaima, Bogoria.
These deaths and desertions of Nakuru threaten to destroy the park’s tourism and income. This desiccation of funding could shut down Nakuru and would subsequently threaten the protection for the eastern black and southern white rhinoceroses and elephants living in the park.
In order to protect Nakuru and the species under its protection, efforts must be made to defend and rebuild the lake’s watershed. Deforestation must be stopped and reforestation must be enacted. Regulations regarding the irrigation of regional farms need to be passed and enforced. Limnologists should be hired and given the duty of combating the flow of chemical and human pollutants into the lake’s waters. Proper protection of the watershed is the only way to save Lake Nakuru National Park from extinction.
The recent National Geographic expedition, Into the Okavango, worked to protect the largest and most vital watershed and wetland area in the southern half of Africa. Ranger Diaries’ founder, James Kydd, photographed the expedition. Check out the website here.