The spectacular lesser flamingo appears to have won the latest round in on-off development plans for one of its most important breeding sites.
Dr Julius Ningu, the Tanzanian Government’s Director of Environment, has said that Lake Natron, which hosts 75 per cent of the world’s lesser flamingos during the breeding season, will be maintained as an “ecological system so that flamingos continue to breed”.
Dr Ningu clarified his Government’s views on the use of natural resources saying “we mean for the benefit of current and future generations.” He told journalists that the extraction of soda ash from the lake, a project first mooted in 2006, “for sure can’t be beneficial to the future generations”. Dr Ningu implied that scientific evidence against the proposal could override economic arguments.
WWT has welcomed Dr Ningu’s statement. Rebecca Lee, Senior Species Conservation Officer at WWT and Chair of the international Flamingo Specialist Group, said: “We’re very pleased to hear this news. While it’s unclear exactly what Dr Ningu’s words will mean for the future of lesser flamingos in the Great Rift Valley, addressing the potential impacts of the soda ash scheme is a positive step and will hopefully ensure the breeding of lesser flamingos at Lake Natron will not be disrupted.”
WWT warned of “catastrophic decline” six years ago when the Indian multinational Tata Chemicals, in conjunction with the Tanzanian Government, announced plans to extract soda ash from Lake Natron, a Ramsar wetland. A huge industrial plant was planned, together with a network of pipes across the lake’s surface. The development would be served by new railways and roads.
The proposal was withdrawn in 2008 but never entirely scrapped. More recently, construction of a new highway was proposed through the Serengeti National Park, close to the site.
Between 1.5 million and 2.5 million lesser flamingos are found in East Africa, most breeding on Lake Natron. The site is isolated and food plentiful making it ideal for a species so readily disturbed.
The birds create a memorable spectacle for wildlife tourists attracting an estimated US$500,000 (£315,000) annually to the Tanzanian economy. The lesser flamingo is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. WWT fears it would face significant decline if development was sanctioned.