LAKE NATRON, TANZANIA
“A Steaming Waterscape Where Flamingoes Thrive”
Breeding site for lesser flamingos, hot springs, amazing scenery and so much more
Lake Natron is proof that one creature’s poison is another’s salvation. The most caustic lake on the planet, its severely alkaline waters are a toxic mix of sodium and high temperatures, where mammals and most fish and birds stay far away.
Yet, this seemingly poisonous brew is sustenance for most of the world’s lesser flamingoes who thrive on its shores. They breed in numbers here, unequaled in the rest of East Africa – about 2.5 million of them.
Visiting the lake one is struck by the deep reds and oranges of cyanobacteria feeding on the intense alkali environment, giving the lake its distinctive rosy tones. Equally surprising is the vast blanket of feathery pinks courtesy of the flamingo population, living and raising their young in this otherwise inhospitable environment.
How the Lake Came to Be
How does a lake come to be one of the most inhospitable ecosystems on the planet? It takes time and just the right natural conditions. Lake Natron is fed by the Southern Ewaso Ng’iro River and also by mineral-rich hot springs.
Not having an outlet for its waters and through active evaporation, these minerals have collected in the lake over thousands of years. The result is a dense concentration of different types of sodium – Trona and Natron – hence the lake’s name.
This highly toxic brine has a pH value of up to 10.5, almost the same as ammonia and its temperature can rise to 600 C (1400 F).
World of Flamingoes
You might imagine that such an infernal environment would be devoid of life but the natural world is amazingly adaptive. As the salt levels increase during the dry season, certain microorganisms thrive here. They create their own photosynthesis just as plants the world over do, except instead of producing the characteristic greens, a red pigment emerges, giving the lake its characteristic crimson and orange tones.
One of these microorganisms is called Spirulina and it is a favorite of the lesser flamingoes, who thrive on its nutrients. In a true testament to the phrase, “You are what you eat.”, the red pigment passes from the Spirulina into the flamingoes, giving them their characteristic pink color.
As the lake is a hostile environment to natural predators, the flamingoes are protected as they feed and nest on the small islands or “rafts” made of salt that form during the dry season.
It’s been estimated that up to 75% of all the lesser flamingoes in the world are born in this otherwise desolate setting. But because this one spot is their primary habitat, the flamingoes are designated as “threatened”, being so dependent on the lake.
A Safari Legend
In a place as chemically strange as Lake Natron, weird occurrences are certain to happen, leading to odd stories. For instance, for those unfortunate to fall into its waters, the lake has a reputation for turning them into stone.
However, in many instances, this turns out to be quite true. Migrating birds, fooled by the lake’s highly reflective surface have crashed into its chemically dense water. They quickly succumb to the scalding temperatures and saline environment. Later, in the dry season when the water ebbs, the birds’ calcified remains can be found – seemingly turned to stone.
Ol Doinyo Lengai – Known as the “Mountain of God” in the Maasai tongue, this is an active volcano just south of the lake. Its last eruption occurred in 2013.
Lake Natron from the air – To fully appreciate the lake’s deep reds and otherworldly contrast with the surrounding plains and mountains, we’ll help book a charter flight over the region for a fascinating air safari.
Survey: Lake Natron
The lake is actually shallow at only 3 m (9 ft) deep, however, during the rainy season, it expands to 57 km (35 mi) long and 22 km (14 m) wide.
Not far from the Kenyan border, the lake is situated in the north Ngorongoro District in the Arusha Region of Tanzania.
Best safari lodges & tented camps at Lake Natron
This is Lake Natron
Perhaps nature at its most bizarre, Lake Natron is an unusual and alluring sight – its chemical reds and oranges complemented by the blanketing swaths of pink flamingoes. Take some time out from your safari adventures to visit this most arresting phenomenon.
Join us at Lake Natron
Africa Kenya Safaris offers journeys to Lake Natron and other attractions in the region. Just contact us to get your safari started.
Here are some of our combined Kenya & Tanzania safaris
(With possible extension to Lake Natron)
4 parks: Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater & Lake Manyara
5 parks: Masai Mara, Lake Victoria/Serengeti/Ngorongoro, & Tarangire
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