Lake Natron expects good year for flamingos

The area around Lake Natron in northern Tanzania is set to experience the most significant breeding season for flamingos since 2007, according to early reports by British scientists from the University of Southampton, observing the birds as they begin nesting.

It is estimated that all of the more-than 2.5 million lesser flamingos in eastern Africa were hatched at Lake Natron, whose islands and caustic environment act as a barrier to predators such as hyenas.

The salt lake and its surrounding mud flats in the Ngorongoro district north-west of Arusha are a crucial breeding ground for lesser flamingos, with up to a million of the birds migrating there annually from all over Africa.

Drought in recent years has dried up the lake's naturally-shallow water levels, causing many of the birds to abandon their nests. However this year's ongoing rains suggest much better breeding conditions for the lesser flamingos - the smallest but most common species of flamingo.

Recently Lake Natron has become the centre of controversy due to the proposed soda-ash extracting factory planned for its eastern Longido shores, by India's Tata Chemicals Ltd of Mumbai and Tanzania's National Development Corporation. The plant would pump water from the lake and extract the sodium carbonate to convert to washing powder for export.

Local conservationists used a pan-African bird conference in Arusha last August to highlight their opposition to the soda ash plant whose coal-fired power station and 1,000 workers they claim could result in the extinction of east Africa's lesser flamingos.