Climate change to blame for flamingo population decline in Lake Nakuru- experts

Climate change to blame for flamingo population decline in Lake Nakuru- experts

Pink flamingoes at Lake Nakuru. | PHOTO: Robert Maina/ CITIZEN DIGITAL

The ecosystem in Lake Nakuru National Park has witnessed a drastic change in the last ten years as a result of climate change.

This has reduced the terrestrial area that acts as the habitat for various herbivores and carnivores compared to aquatic life.

Mr. Edward Karanja who is the park senior warden said climate change has led to rise of water levels spilling over  to residential areas.

The lake size, for instance, has increased from the initial 44 square kilometers to 80 square kilometers.

Karanja who spoke during a journalists' science café at the park said the lake increased in depth instead of decreasing, where it moved from a 4.5meter  to 9 meter depth at the centre as of 2022.

Due to increased water levels, Lake Nakuru has changed from a saline lake to a close to fresh water lake thereby leading to presence of different types of fish including the Nile Tilapia and some fresh water birds.

According to scientists, the changed water PH in Lake Nakuru has greatly affected the population of the Pink Flamingo which survives in saline water and feeds on a specific algae called Spirogyra or the green Algae.

This algae does not survive on fresh water and this has lead to migration of flamingos to Lake Natron in Tanzania.

"The Increase in the quantity of water has altered the flamingo habitat which has lead to reduced number of flamingos in the lake that was initially popular for the birds," Said Karanja

Joseph Edebe, a scientist from Wildlife Research Institute(WRI) in Naivasha, said that the increased water levels has neutralized the waters, introducing new fish species as evident from the increased number of pelican birds that feed on them.

"The lake is exhibiting characteristics of a freshwater lake though it can never be fresh, the PH has gone down from 10.5 to 9 and we are seeing birds associated with fish.  However, it is a saline lake, there are some parts you will find some plants associated with fresh water," Said Edebe.

Lake Nakuru is a critical protected area and a sanctuary not only for the flamingos but also to the white rhinos and the Rhodes giraffe species

Dr. Judith Nyunja, the Principal Scientist at WRI, said Lake Nakuru has been recognised globally as the wetland of international importance because of its biodiversity

The scientist adds that they are still doing more research on how they can scientifically propagate the Green Algae that is fed by the flamingos since the natural ones have been destroyed by the fresh characteristics being exhibited by the lake.

"In the past years we have seen climatic changes resulting in increased water levels which has affected the extent of the lake which reduced the quality of water. The water quality has been influenced by the rising water levels resulting into a significant reduction in the number of birds," said Dr. Nyunja.

The water body has been restructured in terms of the circuits after the initial road network in the park was covered by water including offices and the main gate, an impact that led to loss of more than Ksh.400 million.

On matters flamingoes, Dr. Judith adds, "when we had significant dilution of water, it meant that the green algae was not able to be propagated in Lake Nakuru System and so there was a crash in terms of the food that the flamingos would feed on and therefore we lost quite a big number of flamingos".

The scientist observed that there was a need for the management and scientists to keep monitoring the water PH. in Lake Nakuru in order to maintain and increase the flagship species in the Lake Nakuru ecosystems.


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