Scientists call on Tanzanian government to protect Lake Natron

Posted by Laura Grant on October 7, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Lesser flamingo on Lake Bogoria in East Africa's Rift Valley.

Lesser flamingo on Lake Bogoria in East Africa. Picture courtesy BirdLife International, www.jameswarwick.co.uk

Conservationists have urged the government of Tanzania to protect Lake Natron, the world’s most important lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) breeding site, from a proposed soda ash (sodium bicarbonate) plant.

The Lesser Flamingo population in East Africa – some 1.5-million to 2.5 million birds – accounting for 75% of the global population, is dependent on the lake for its survival, stated 250 scientists from around the world, who had gathered near Cape Town for the 12thPan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 12), in a resolution.

Lake Natron is uniquely suitable for lesser flamingo nesting because of the chemical composition of the water and the presence of suitable material for nest construction. Its isolated location means the birds are not disturbed by humans or predators, the scientists said.

Tata Chemicals, with the backing of the Tanzanian government, wants to build a plant capable of producing 500,000 tonnes of soda ash at the lake. The project has drawn worldwide opposition.

The PAOC 12 scientists and other groups opposed to the plant say that the display of pink flamingos at lakes in the East African Rift Valley is a major tourist attraction, described as “the greatest ornithological spectacle on earth”.This natural heritage therefore needed to be conserved, the scientists said.

The scientists are concerned that the operations of the soda ash plant would “permanently perturb” the conditions that make the lake suitable for the flamingos to breed.

The resolution also called for the development of an Integrated Management Plan that “underpins the conservation of the Lake Natron ecosystem in perpetuity, and the use of its resources in a manner that does not put biodiversity and people’s livelihoods at risk”, said  Birdlife in a press release. This would entail co-operation between Tanzania and Kenya, across whose joint border Lake Natron is situated.

Another of Africa’s four lesser flamingo breeding sites – there are only six in the world – is under threat. The Kamfers Dam site in Kimberley, South Africa, where 9,000 chicks hatched earlier this year, is at risk from a poorly maintained sewerage works and a proposed commercial and housing development, say experts.

Source: BirdLife International

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