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At last, Kenyan lakes get global protection

By | July 4th 2011

By Karanja Njoroge and Beauttah Omanga

Three Great Rift Valley’s lakes are glittering in new-found fame after joining the coveted World Natural Heritage List last week.

Lakes Nakuru, Elementaita and Bogoria are now internationally recognised natural beauty spots following recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Endorois community members conduct rituals at the shores of Lake Bogoria. The lake is now a world heritage site.

IUCN, an independent advisory body to United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisation (Unesco), paved way for the formal recognition of the sites after presenting an evaluation report to the World Heritage Committee in Paris, France.

The lakes, which lie in the basins of the Great Rift Valley, were approved to join the prestigious ranks owing to their outstanding beauty and biodiversity.

The entry of the natural sites to Unesco’s coveted list has been music to the ears of conservation enthusiasts.

"It is wonderful to see these spectacular lake sites in Kenya, and their rich bird life, achieving recognition as natural sites of the highest global importance," said Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme.

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Communities around the lakes will be keen to exploit new opportunities that may come with the new status.

The lakes become the first natural World Heritage Site listed in Africa since 2007.

"The lakes are outstanding examples of ongoing ecological and biological

Tourists take pictures in Lake Nakuru, which has been recognised for its rich birdlife. Flamingos (in the background) turn its shores pink. Photos: Boniface Thuku/Standard

But members of the Endorois Community who cite Lake Bogoria as their ancestral home welcomed the development with cautious optimism.

Endorois Welfare Council secretary Wilson Kipkazi said the listing would only be of use if the local community stands to benefit.

"The money collected should trickle down to the communities who have protected the lakes for generations," Kipkazi said.

The great geologist J W Gregory had described Lake Bogoria with her hot springs erupting, along with the geysers as "the most beautiful view in Africa".

Awesome geysers

The awesome geysers erupt up to three metres into the air and have a pungent sulphuric smell.

Nakuru resident John Chepsoi said the recognition is prove that the Rift Valley possesses some of most wonderful natural sites in the world.

"The Rift Valley boasts of nature’s best creation and we are happy that the world has realised that," he said.

The Ningaloo Coast in Australia and the Ogasawara Islands in Japan were other international natural sites also inscribed on the prestigious list.

The Ningaloo Reef (listed this year) is home to the largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark, as well as to more than 500 species of tropical fish and 220 species of coral.

The Ogasawara Islands, located in the western Pacific Ocean, are an example of ongoing evolutionary and biological processes in oceanic island ecosystems.

Locally, the lakes and Fort Jesus join Lamu Old Town, Lake Turkana National Park, Mijikenda’s sacred Kaya Forests and Mt Kenya National Park, which are already on the world map.

Lake Turkana National Park, which is described as Africa’s most saline large lake, was listed in 1997. The lake is said to be a perfect laboratory for the study of plant and animals.

The Lamu town built in coral stone and mangrove is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement and was inscribed into the list as a cultural site in 2001.

Lake Bogoria National Reserve Chief Warden William Kimosop said the publicity generated by the endorsement would lead to more tourists visiting the Lakes. This will spur economic activities in adjacent areas.

"We expect tourists to visit other attractions in the North Rift including Lake Baringo, Tugen Hills, Kerio Valley and Elgeyo Marakwet," said an elated Kimosop.

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