IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


26th June, 2024 Geography


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Picture Courtesy: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/africa/flamingos-under-threat-climate-impact-jeopardising-delicate-balance-of-tanzania-s-lake-natron-96849

Context: The unique ecosystem of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, which hosts the world's largest migratory bird colony of pink flamingos, is facing severe threats due to human activities and climate change.


  • Lake Natron's alkaline waters, filled with caustic soda and hypersaline conditions, make it inhospitable to most predators but ideal for flamingos. The lake's unique composition supports the growth of cyanobacteria, a key food source for flamingos.

Impact of Climate Change

  • Salinity and Water Levels: Climate change is causing erratic weather patterns, leading to fluctuating water levels and salinity in Lake Natron. Extreme weather events like flooding dilute the lake's saline content, disrupting the growth of cyanobacteria crucial for flamingo nutrition. Conversely, prolonged dry seasons concentrate salinity beyond tolerable levels, causing food shortages for flamingos.
  • Nesting Challenges: Fluctuations in water levels make it difficult for flamingos to find suitable nesting sites, impacting their breeding success and population stability.

Human Activities

  • Mining Threats: Proposed mining activities, like the soda ash extraction project in 2006, pose significant risks to the lake's ecosystem. Mining disturbs the lake environment, potentially driving flamingos away from their nesting and feeding grounds.
  • Local Efforts: Despite challenges, local communities are actively involved in conservation efforts. Education on sustainable water practices aims to balance human needs with ecological preservation, ensuring Lake Natron remains a viable habitat for flamingos and other wildlife.

Conservation Efforts and Challenges

  • Community Involvement: Local communities play a crucial role in protecting flamingos through education and sustainable practices. Initiatives focus on maintaining a harmonious balance between ecological conservation and local livelihoods.
  • Tourism and Economic Impact: Flamingos are not only vital to the ecosystem but also a significant tourist attraction, contributing to Tanzania's economy. Sustainable tourism practices can promote conservation while supporting local communities economically.
  • Global Context: Similar challenges face flamingo populations across Africa's Great Rift Valley. Rising water levels, invasive species, and climate change threaten critical breeding sites, highlighting the need for coordinated international conservation efforts.

About Flamingos

  • Flamingos, known for their vibrant pink colour and interesting behaviours, are unique birds.
  • The name "flamingo" comes from the Portuguese or Spanish word "flamengo," meaning "flame-coloured." There are six recognized species of flamingos, belonging to three different genera.
    • These include the Greater Flamingo, American Flamingo, and Chilean Flamingo in the Phoenicopterus genus, as well as the Lesser Flamingo in the Phoeniconaias genus, and the Andean Flamingo and James's Flamingo in the Phoenicoparrus genus.
  • Flamingos can be found in both the Americas and Afro-Eurasia, inhabiting various habitats such as saltwater lakes, estuarine lagoons, and mudflats.
  • They have long legs, necks, and webbed feet adapted for wading in shallow waters. Their distinctive pink colour comes from their diet rich in carotenoids, which they obtain from algae and small crustaceans.
  • These birds live in large colonies called "flamboyances" and have unique feeding behaviour, filtering food upside-down using their specialized bills.
  • Some interesting facts about flamingos include their ability to stand on one leg for extended periods, which helps conserve body heat and reduce muscle fatigue. They are also skilled flyers, using their large wingspans to migrate between feeding and breeding sites.

Places to see flamingos in India

Rann of Kutch, Gujarat: This vast salt desert transforms into a seasonal wetland during the monsoon, attracting thousands of Lesser Flamingos.

Chilika Lake, Odisha: This brackish water lagoon is the largest coastal lagoon in India and a haven for migratory birds. Greater and Lesser Flamingos flock here during the winter months, creating a mesmerizing scene.

Sewri Mudflats, Mumbai: Believe it or not, even a bustling metropolis like Mumbai offers a chance to see flamingos. The Sewri Mudflats on the eastern coast become a temporary home for these elegant birds, particularly during winter.

Bhigwan, Maharashtra: Often referred to as the "Bharatpur of Maharashtra," Bhigwan is a paradise for birdwatchers. The Ujani Dam backwaters in Bhigwan are a hotspot for flamingos, especially during the cooler months.

About Lake Natron

  • Lake Natron, located in northern Tanzania at the border with Kenya, is a unique salt or alkaline lake known for its extreme conditions and biodiversity.
  • Lake Natron lies in the Gregory Rift, part of the East African Rift system. It is fed by the Southern Ewaso Ng'iro River from Kenya and mineral-rich hot springs.
  • The lake is shallow, less than three meters deep, and varies in width depending on water levels.
  • The lake's high evaporation rates have led to the accumulation of natron (sodium carbonate decahydrate) and trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate), giving the lake its alkaline properties. The pH of the lake can exceed 12, creating an extremely caustic environment.
  • The lake's characteristic red colour comes from halophile microorganisms, particularly cyanobacteria, which thrive in high-salinity environments. Salt marshes and freshwater wetlands around the lake support a variety of plant life.
  • Despite the harsh conditions, Lake Natron hosts endemic algae, invertebrates, and birds. It is the primary breeding area for Africa's lesser flamingoes (Phoeniconaias minor), with millions of birds gathering here due to the abundance of their preferred food source, Spirulina algae.
  • The area is designated as a Ramsar Site of international importance but lacks formal protection. Conservation efforts are underway to prevent the construction of the soda ash plant and to manage the area sustainably for ecotourism.


Down to Earth



Q. Where is Lake Natron located, which has been frequently seen in the news due to its unique ecological conditions?

A) Sudan

B) Tanzania

C) Uganda

D) Ethiopia

Answer: B