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The future is more rosy with flamingos

Last modified: 26 October 2009

Lesser flamingos at Lake Natron

The destruction of Lake Natron could remove three-quarters of the world population of lesser flamingos.

Villagers around Tanzania’s Lake Natron have vowed to protect the lake and its treasure of lesser flamingos from industrial development, pointing out that their own future depends on the sustainable use of the lake.

BirdLife International’s Tanzanian partner - the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) - has proposed an alternative to the environmentally-destructive soda-ash-extraction plant proposed for the lake, calling instead for its unmatched tourism potential to be developed and for local people to benefit.

God gave us this resource for use by ourselves, our children and children’s children

Most important

Three-quarters of the world’s lesser flamingo population lives in East Africa, and Lake Natron is by far their most important breeding site. In 2007, the Indian-based multinational company, Lake Natron Resources Ltd, proposed a major soda-ash-extraction plant to exploit the lake’s alkaline waters.

Nesting flamingos are very sensitive to disturbance and readily abandon breeding attempts. If permitted, the proposed soda ash plant could jeopardise lesser flamingo breeding in East Africa. The Lake Natron flamingos are one of the highlights of East Africa’s wildlife tourism industry, which contributes about a seventh of East Africa’s GDP.

Successful appeal

Tata – the Indian multinational - appears to have withdrawn its interest following a successful appeal against an inadequate environmental impact assessment by the Lake Natron Consultative Group: a coalition of community and environmental groups, including BirdLife International Partners. But, earlier this year, BirdLife learned that the Tanzanian government published invitations to tender for soda-extraction equipment and plans for an extension of the rail network linking Lake Natron to the port of Tanga. The Government subsequently denied being responsible for the invitations.

Speaking at a WCST meeting, Maasai elder, Lasoi Ole Nareshoi, said: “God gave us this resource for use by ourselves, our children and children’s children. We will protect it from any industrial exploitation that may chase away the flamingos and damage the environment. No one can take Lake Natron away from us.”

The chairman of Ngare Sero Village, Christopher Ndurway, reminded delegates that a community delegation from Lake Natron rejected the soda ash plant last year at a public hearing organised by the National Environment Management Council, in Dar es Salaam.

“We said ‘No’ in Dar es Salaam in 2008 and that stand remains. We stand to gain more by conserving this lake and its resources and using it sustainably for many years to come. A soda ash factory is of no use to us”, Mr Ndurway added.


Supporting local communities, Ken Mwathe, of Birdlife International’s East African secretariat, said: “The future of the local communities lies in exploiting Lake Natron’s natural beauty and not the soda ash”

The future of the local communities lies in exploiting Lake Natron’s natural beauty and not the soda ash

Paul Nnyiti, WCST’s Forest Governance Project Coordinator, said the time had come for stakeholders and the government to assist the Lake Natron community so they can benefit from tourism.

“Lake Natron is now known the world over. We invite the government and development partners to join us in opening opportunities to benefit local communities by developing the Lake’s immense tourism potential, which is currently under-utilised,” said Mr Nnyiti. 


Ken Mwathe of the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat, who is the Coordinator of the Lake Natron Consultative Group, said that although the soda ash mining plans have been put on hold, stakeholders remain worried that the plans have not been abandoned. “It is time everyone accepted the need to shelve these plans once and for all,” he said. “The future of the local communities lies in exploiting Lake Natron’s natural beauty and not the soda ash. We all need to move on”.

"The conservation of Lake Natron is vital for both the flamingos and the communities that live there", added Sarah Sanders, the RSPB Global Country Programme Manager. "We urge stakeholders to come together to agree a mechanism to ensure Lake Natron is protected for ever”.

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