Lake Bogoria

Kenya, Africa
February 2000

Lake Bogoria is a soda lake
in Africa's great rift valley.
It supports a million flamingos.

I joined an Earthwatch expedition headed by Dr. David Harper of Leicester Univerisity in a dry dusty land much like the shrub-steppe in which I live. The tented camp was home for two weeks.


After six months without rain the Kenyan landscape appears hostile, and indeed it is. Top soil has been washed down the slope, in this case into Lake Bogoria, leaving only the heaviest rocks. Baboons race across this barren area with captured flamingos to ravish under the thorny bushes. From the spot where I took the photograph the land looked barren. Turning around I faced the lake.

Soil is washed away from slope leaving only heavier rocks

Lake Bogoria is a soda lake in the great rift valley in Africa. Soda bicarbonate is required for the growth of Spirulina platensis, an algae favored as food of the lesser flamingo, Phoeniconaias minor, or the Swahili, Heroe mdogo, In this aerial photo taken on February 22, 2000, from a single engine plane affectionately called Uncle Charley, the birds looked like pink froth along the shore.
I volunteered to go on an Earthwatch expedition as an assistant to scientists doing exploratory research in Lake Bogoria National Reserve. I measured oxygen content and temperature of waters in the lake and nearby rivers. The Reserve is administered by councils of two counties in which it is located. The health and future of the lake and its flora and fauna are of concern to the natives.
We interrupted the feeding of the birds when we approached and the healthy ones warily moved away. There were a few that were unable to sense any danger. These birds eventually died in the water, or were snatched by predators. Flamingos appeared to be a stable food source of fish eagles, steppe eagles, Marabou storks, baboons, warthogs, and unidentified nocturnal animals.
Flamingos too lethargic to flee from predators are easy  meals to eagles, worthogs, and baboons.
I assisted the scientists in counting the carcasses along transects assigned by principal investigator, Dr David Harper, from Leicester University in England. The daily count was made to extrapolate long-term implications on the population of flamingos that regularly feed on the algae and diatoms in the surface waters of the lake.
Untouched body of this flamingo  led scientists to search for other cause of death
Lake Bogoria National Reserve is under the jurisdiction of local people, not the government. Stephen, on my right, and Joshua Kibai Chebotibin, on my left, work with the administrators. Musa Cheruiyot is director of the environmental center where we camped. With funding from the World Wildlife Federation, Musa works with local schools fostering environmental awareness.
Stephen, Naomi, Kibai, and Musa pose in the Reserve compound, March 2, 2000.
Local citizens realize the need for tourist dollars in their economy and are concerned about their future. Cattle and goats are their traditional wealth but grazing is severely damaging the very land which sustains them. The county councils, the park warden, William Kimosop, and the environmental education center are working together with residents to solve the dilemma.
Cattle amble listlessly over barren ground having already consumed  the most nutrious plants.
From the air I saw the extent of a wealthy resident's compound. A house was built for each wife as she was acquired. This arrangement provided wonderful extended families for children. The practice also demanded livestock and more plants and water than the land could provide. A third generation resident decided he would reduce his herd to save the land.
Wealthy natives establish their compounds close to water source.
Kibai, taking the name Joshua supposedly more easily pronounced by tourists, is pursuing a university education in environmental sciences. Education is expensive in Kenya, felt keenly because of the low annual income and lack of salable goods. Recorded data is analyzed by the leading scientist and used to determine future studies of the area.
Kibai (Joshua0 Chebotibin, a university student, records data at waters' edge.
Dr Munir Virani explains his work for the Peregrine Fund, Inc., to curious children. Munir (KE), Courtney Bowles (USA), and Maureen Harper (UK) charted resident African fish eagles (Haliaeetus vocifer) for ten days. Observing the researchers were hundreds of common steppe buzzards (Buteo buteo vulpinus) resting during their northerly migration to arctic nesting sites. .
Dr Munir Virani enjoys sharing his knowledge of birds to local children.
We were treated to the delicate fragrance and brilliant flowers of the indigent acacia tree with the most inhospitable thorns in any forest. The acacia species is home to many insects as found by entomologists Tony Crane and Tony Drain, whom I helped beat the bushes for proof of beetle habitation. Many birds ate the insects and in Samburu I later saw gerenuks and giraffes eating the leaves.
Bight fragrant blossoms don't dull the wickedly sharp thorns of the acacia tree.
Dorice Agol, a university student from the Kisumu area, collected water insects from the fresh water pool by main road. Specimens were taken to the laboratory at the Reserve's education center for identification and subsequent study. Aquatic and terrestrial insects are integral parts of a sustainable ecosystem. Dorice seeks funding for further education in environmental science.
Dorice Agol collected water beetles as curious children looled on.
Three hundred meters up slope from Lake Bogoria the fifteen-foot chimney of a termite mound on which I stood soared skyward. Millions of termites underground produce carbondioxide that requires venting. I wonder if there is a symbiotic relationship with the nearby acacia tree that had contributed to the health of plant and animal. Tree and mound were tallest examples of each type I observed
Termite mounds in the Lake Bogoria area  have tall chimneys to allow release of carbon dioxide from their immense colonies.
Courtney Bowles, an Earthwatch volunteer from USA, examines a desert rose- not a rose at all. The tree stores water in the unique trunk and was in bloom on many hillsides. We went to Island Camp on the large island of Lake Baringo for a delicious lunch of local meat and vegetables. We studied a dozen species of sunbirds - the Kenyan term for what USA bird watchers call hummers.
Courtney Bowles admires the desert rose at Lake Baringo.
The aloe plant in bloom on island in Lake Baringo, a freshwater lake north of Bogoria where we saw Hippopotamus amphibious- the River Horse. Aloe juices are used for skin care all over the world. In February I only saw plants in bloom near water. In the Bogoria Reserve, aloe is abundant and survives on its stored water with none to spare for flowering during the dry season .
Aloe plant blooms perfusely on the island in Lake Baringo.
On one of our leisure days, we were treated to a tour of a lush forest several thousand kilometers west of Bogoria. On the forest floor a river cooled the air and Colebus monkeys were observed. I saw a tail and much shaking of branches. Colorful butterflies drank at the waters' edge. William Kimosop spoke of his concern for the forest because many fires burned on the nearby hills.
A truck loaded with students raises dust in the river valley of  Kenya's "rain" forest.
From a viewpoint of about three thousand meters, results of previous cutting and burning were compounds of families. Smoke grayed the horizon on all sides. Cutting in the forest was forbidden but the county councils had few rangers to enforce the rules.
Natives slash and burn forests  and plant maise and  tea.
County council members were our guides in the area. After our tour we shared fried chicken, bread and juice on makeshift benches in the high cool setting. Four-wheel drive vehicles rumbled precariously over rocky roads endemic to the interior of Kenya. Roads in cities weren't rocky - just full of holes - and driving was no picnic anywhere.
County council members joined the research group at a picnic after a tour of the forest.

Naomi Sherer