Hope and splendour as flamingos fly back to Rift Valley lakes

Flamingos at Lake Bogoria. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The skies above the saline Lake Bogoria in Baringo County have once again been adorned with vibrant hues of pink as millions of flamingos gracefully return to their sanctuary.

The elegant creatures take flight, their wings slicing through the air in synchronised harmony before landing gracefully on the saline shores.

With each dip into the crystalline waters, they transform their feathers into the shade of pink colour that earned them their name. Beyond a mere spectacle, this resplendent sight speaks to the resilience of both nature and the human spirit.

James Kimaru, the park warden, walks along the shores with a mix of wonder and relief.

“Approximately two million flamingos have returned, flying back from around mid-June. We are hosting the largest numbers compared to other lakes in the Rift,” he says.

This is no ordinary homecoming; it’s a triumphant reclamation of territory lost to nature’s whims.

Not long ago, rising water levels submerged the land beneath, forcing these magnificent birds to seek refuge elsewhere. Now, as the waters recede albeit at a slow pace, the birds are returning en masse.

This return signifies more than a captivating event; it symbolizes hope for a community that has faced numerous challenges.

Baringo County, nestled within the Rift Valley, has endured both environmental upheaval and a global pandemic.

Rising water levels due to climate change disrupted lakes Bogoria, Baringo, and Kamnarok, encroaching on farmlands, displacing families, and disrupting tourism.

The vibrant pink hue of Lake Bogoria, a potential tourism revenue source, was obscured by turbulent waves. Floods damaged infrastructure, displacing communities and exposing the vulnerability of the tourism industry.

Zacharia Kiprotich, Baringo county CEC for Tourism and Wildlife, says climate factors influenced the lake’s water levels. The hot springs, another attraction at the lake, briefly diminished but are now making a slow return.

“We market Lake Bogoria on the basis of flamingos and hot springs. With the lake receding, we believe the hot springs will be fully restored in a few months or a year so that our visitors can enjoy them,” Kiprotich said.

He noted that the challenges were amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the tourism sector’s revenues to plummet.

“Before Covid-19, a good number of visitors came to Lake Bogoria and Baringo. After the pandemic, everything stopped, and we were really affected. We couldn’t even generate Sh2 million in revenue from around 90 million,” he said.

The CEC revealed that they are re-conserving Lake Kamnarok, which was once home to over 10,000 crocodiles, second only to Lake Chad in holding capacity. But the oxbow lake has been affected by many factors, including human activities.

The convergence of the pandemic and escalating water levels dealt a blow to tourism stakeholders, particularly hoteliers.

The vibrant tourist destinations along the Rift Valley lakes were impacted by travel restrictions and lockdowns, resulting in a significant drop in tourist arrivals. But with the return of flamingos, hope is rekindled, bookings are up, and the economy is experiencing a boost.

“At the hotel, we receive about 250 visitors daily, some for lunch and the majority for accommodation. The birds are here in millions, and visitors from across the globe are here to catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds,” said Lydia Dentewo, the General Manager of Lake Bogoria Spa.

Ms Dentewo said Baringo County offers more than just Lake Bogoria. From breathtaking cliffs to flourishing conservancies, the county boasts a range of attractions including sites like Lake 94 and Lake Kamnarok.