By Anne Mwale
Flamingos, the main attraction at Lake Nakuru National Park, have fled due to increased water levels.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has raised the alarm over rising water levels from rivers feeding the lake, which is recognized by the Ramsar Convention and UNESCO’s World Heritage list of protected sites due to its bird life.
“With onset of the long rain which is due from April we are worried that the situation may be aggravated. Flamingos are our biggest attraction and the rising Lake water levels are affecting their ecosystem,” said the park senior warden Collins Ochieng.
Increased amount of water inflows dilutes the lake’s alkaline level, which supports growth of algae that flamingoes feed on.
In the past five years, the extreme water levels have also walloped large swathes of the habitat including the acacia woodland, which is now submerged in water forcing buffaloes and other animals to migrate to higher grounds.
“Flamingos are moving to Lake Turkana and Bogoria for food. Some of our birds have relocated to Lake Natron in Tanzania. This phenomenon has been unfolding in the past few years.
Low salinity of the water has reduced the growth of the blue-green algae, the flamingos’ main food” said MrOchieng.
The park is also home to black rhinos, zebras, hippos and tree-climbing lions. It is however, the flamingos that paint the lakeshore pink, that draw big visitor numbers of bird watchers.
Scientists now warn that should there be heavy rainfall this season, the lake would continue swelling.
And this could spell more doom to Lake Nakuru, once a home to more than one million flamingos and a number of rhinos.
According to KWS, Lake Nakuru National Park has over 450 bird species, with the biggest percentage being flamingos and pelicans.
The Senior Warden is optimistic that conservation intervention measures instituted by Ministry of Environment are reversing the situation.
“The decision by the government to ban plastic bags has seen tremendous reduction of the harmful waste in Lake Nakuru. Plastic bags have been a great threat to survival of flamingos and other birds. It is a big relief for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) as previously we used to manually collect more than 500kg of plastic waste from Nakuru Town every week.
Our tourism numbers remain impressive as the lake’s unique ecosystem supports many other species of birds. The situation has not significantly affected our status. This park attracts more than 35,000 people monthly, making it one of the most visited of Kenya’s national parks and reserves” stated the Senior Warden
Changes in the size and depth of the lake have been attributed to increasing human population, rapid land use changes in the lake’s catchment area and climate variability.
It is estimated that the size of the lake has increased from 42sqkms to 68sqkms. Heavy siltation has been cited as another major factor choking the lake.
Mr. Ochieng said the Kenya Wildlife Service was working with experts to work out a solution for diminishing salinity.
“We will continue working with the County Government of Nakuru to effectively manage garbage so that it does not find its way in this ecosystem. KWS department of Education is working with communities living within the Lake’s catchment in mitigating against pollution, bad agricultural practices and deforestation,” said the Senior Warden.
A recent study by Egerton University points an accusing finger at the rapid growth of Nakuru town as a key factor that has contributed to the lake’s rising water levels.
“Many areas of the town have been paved thereby reducing ground water uptake. Most of the water that used to infiltrate into the ground has been channeled into the lake. This is has significantly increased surface run off,” states the study.
Existence of animal and bird life at the Lake Nakuru Sanctuary is also threatened by encroachment, pollution, abstraction of water, invasive species weeds and climate change.
Experts contend that toxic wastes that have found their way into the water body include fertilizers and agrochemicals from farms and industries in the densely populated Nakuru town and Njoro sub-basin.