Lake Natron is a mineral rich soda lake located in northern Tanzania, which also stretches partly into Kenya. It is a dead-end lake, which means that the lake doesn't drain into any river or sea. Lake Natron is a shallow lake which is fed by mineral rich hot springs. The temperature around Lake Natron is consistently high, with an average temperatres of 40 degrees celsius. It is 57km's long and around 22km's im width. It is extremely salty and the Local Masai harvest and sell its salt.
Lake Natron is well known as a breeding ground for Flamingo, who have evolved to live in some of the planet's most extreme wetlands, caustic "soda lakes", hypersaline lagoons or high-altitude salt flats.
One species, the lesser flamingo, has taken this relationship to the limit. Most birds are found in super-altaline lakes throughout Africa's Great Rift Valley, which host immense blooms of microscipic blue-green algae (called cyanobacteria). These poisonous plants produce chemicals that, in most animals, can fatally damage cells, the nervous system, and the liver. The lesser flamingo, however, can consume enormous amounts with no ill effects, unless you count their colorful plumage, which comes for a pigment in the algae.
Two of the lesser flamingo's preferred habitats, Lake Bogoria in Kenya and Lake Natron in Tanzania, are hypersaline and hostile to practically all other forms of like. Lake Natron water can even strip away human skin.
For the flamingo's, this is a bonus. Special tough skin and scales on their legs prevent burns, and they can drink water at near boiling point if necessary. They have special glands in their heads that remove salt, draining it out of their nasal cavity.
Few other animals are able to cope in such conditions, therefore, there is minimal competition for food, and these toxic wetlands are home of massive flocks.
Million-strong gatherings provide several benefits. Mass synchronised nesting gives flamingo's the best possible chance to raise the maximum number of chicks, while on choppy days a dense mass of birds swimming together also helps to create the optimal feeding environment (still water) within the centre of the group. Sheer numbers also make it harder for predators like hyenas or jackals to identify individual victims.
As such, a single flamingo is not a happy flamingo. The species is happiest in huge gatherings, and these won't occur around any old lake - the lesser flamingo specifically needs its toxic, salty paradise.
But these places are rare. Across the six flamingo species, there are only 30 or so regularly used breeding sites worldwide, and while the global population of around 3.2m lesser flamingo's is impressive, it is largely reliant on a few huge groups. About 75% nest at Lake Natron alone.
Unlike many other species that can still breed in smaller populations, as their habitat becomes damaged, these birds cannot easily survive in small groups. Having evolved in such a hostile environment with few rivals, they would have trouble adapting to a more competitive lifestyle elsewhere. With most of their eggs in one toxic basket, the lesser flamingo is unusually vulnerable for a species with millions of individuals.
The algai of Lake Natron give the flamingo's their pink color and at times of algal bloom, Lake Natron itself turns red.
July/August are the peak times to visit this spectacular place. While it is a bit of a drive, it is well worth it. There are flamingo here at all time of the year, but in much lower numbers.
Another attraction of the area is the impressive and beautiful Ol Doinyo Lengai, known to the local Masai as "Mountain of God". It is the world's only active volcano where you are able to climb down to the lava. Not recommended for all as it is a bit of a hike and must be undertaken at night, because of the heat and also so you summit at dawn.
Lake Natron is one of my favourite destinations, it is very unique and away from the crowds.