The flamingo is a strange looking creature. Pink-feathered, it seems to teeter on impossibly-thin legs. Its face is even more bizarre: piercing yellow eyes sit atop a deep, jug-like bill. But such an odd appearance might actually be expected of an animal that lives in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth.
The soda lakes of The Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa is the preferred habitat of this most iconic bird. Running from Northern Syria all the way to Mozambique, the Great Rift Valley is a vast area of anthropological and geological importance; widely regarded as the birthplace of humanity, the rift represents the gradual separation of the African continent and will one day host a new ocean.
The soda lakes are just one of the area’s distinctive geological features. These flat, low lakes are characterised by extremely high alkaline levels – the result of a unique combination of climatic and geological conditions.
Whilst most animals would quickly perish in this toxic environment, the flamingo thrives. The prehistoric conditions of the soda lakes are perfect for algae and brine shrimp, staples in the flamingo diet, which it sifts with its specially shaped bill. In fact, this diet is also responsible for the distinctive pink colour of the bird – interestingly, flamingos are born with grey feathers which turn pink. Their plumage gradually turns pink in the wild because of a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin contained in the food they eat: brine shrimp and blue-green algae.
They’re also uniquely adapted to withstand the harmfully-alkaline waters. When they have no access to fresh water, for example, they’re able to drink boiling-hot alkaline water from the gesiers dotted around the lakes, and filter it using their lengthy throats. Their gangly legs, furthermore, are covered in resilient scales allowing them to stand for long periods in otherwise unbearably toxic conditions.
Approximately up to two million of these incredible creatures congregate between three of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley lakes: Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Elmenteita. Although each of the lakes offers visitors the chance to see flamingos in their natural habitat, Lake Elmenteita is an exceptional location for keen photographers; lesser-known than the other soda lakes, it provides the opportunity for breathtaking photos, set against a dramatic backdrop.
Lake Elementaita, or Ol muteita (‘place of dust’) as it’s known in Maasai language, is a panoramic expanse that harks back to a primordial era. The shallow, bubbling lake is framed by the ‘Sleeping Warrior’ (a single hill so named on account of its resemblance to a reclining figure) and Ol Doinyo Eburu (a dormant volcano).
Visitors will see flamingos wading gracefully through the noxious waters, and they may also catch sight of the lake’s other notable inhabitants. Amongst these is the Great White Pelican; Lake Elementaita is the only breeding ground for these iconic birds in East Africa, and it’s possible to observe their nests on rocky outcrops throughout the lake.
For those wishing to discover the pristine natural beauty of this area, our accommodation at Loldia House is ideally situated for day trips. Retaining its original classical charm and equipped with all modern amenities, it is perfect for nature lovers wanting to experience the area in comfort.