Haven for flamingos at Africa's toxic lakes

At a distance, they look like a Pointilist painting. But up close, these "dots" seen in Lake Bogoria, Kenya, last week are actually lesser flamingos, one of Africa's most iconic birds.

Two of the lesser flamingo's preferred habitats, Lake Bogoria and Tanzania's Lake Natron, are hypersaline and hostile to practically all other forms of life, according to news website The Conversation. Natron water can even strip away human skin.

With few other animals able to cope in such conditions, there is minimal competition for food, and these toxic wetlands are home to massive flocks.

But these places are rare. Across the six flamingo species, there are only 30 or so regularly used breeding sites worldwide. While the global population of around 3.2 million lesser flamingos is impressive, it is largely reliant on a few huge groups. About 75 per cent nest at Lake Natron alone.

Unlike many other species that can still breed in smaller populations as their habitats become damaged, these birds cannot easily survive in small groups.

The number of lesser flamingos in the wild is already decreasing each year, and humans are to blame.

Wetland habitats have been polluted by agricultural chemicals and sewage, feeding and breeding grounds have been disturbed, and declining algal blooms mean some populations are starving to death.

Life in the Rift Valley lakes is a delicate balance. If humans were to cause drastic changes, their spectacular pink inhabitants would vanish forever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Haven for flamingos at Africa's toxic lakes'. Print Edition | Subscribe