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Vancouver, BC | Posted: March 6th, 2017
I hadn’t heard of Lake Elmenteita before I traveled to Kenya on a volunteer trip with Animal Experience International. As it turns out, it’s one of the most important lakes for birds and wildlife in East Africa.
Lake Elmenteita is a soda lake in the Great Rift Valley. Soda lakes are alkaline with high concentrations of carbonate salts. They’re one of the most productive aquatic environments worldwide, due to an endless supply of dissolved carbon dioxide. Their shallow waters and abundant supplies of blue-green algae and insect larvae attract many species of birds.
Three soda lakes comprise the Kenya Lake System: Lake Elmenteita, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Bogoria. The Kenya Lake System is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to 13 globally threatened bird species and 8 regionally threatened species. These lakes are a crucial breeding and nesting ground for Great White Pelicans with over 8000 breeding pairs. Furthermore, they are the most substantial foraging sites for Lesser Flamingos in the world.
Over 4 million Lesser Flamingos migrate between the three lakes, and there are over 100 species of migratory birds living at Lake Elmenteita. In the winter, billions of birds flock from northern breeding grounds to warmer African climates, making Lake Elmenteita their temporary home.
I observed species of wild birds that I’d never seen before in my life, such as the African Spoonbill, the Black-Necked Grebe, and the Marabou Stork. I learned how to tell the difference between the Great Flamingo and the Lesser Flamingo (the Lesser Flamingo is more pink, especially on its bill). Watching these creatures gently graze the surface of the water with the dramatic Sleeping Warrior mountain looming in the background was quite a spectacular scene.
During my volunteer expedition with Animal Experience International, I helped monitor the bird populations at Lake Elmenteita. We drove from one site to the next around the lake, taking note of both the species and numbers of the birds. It’s vital to continually monitor the wildlife to ensure that their populations aren’t dwindling. As this ecosystem is constantly under threat by soil erosion, increased human activity, and dried up catchment areas, we must remain diligent to protect it. Thankfully, this region is part of a protected wildlife conservancy. Through the efforts of employees and volunteers, the birds will continue to thrive at Lake Elmenteita.
Lake Elmenteita is a paradise for photographers and bird watchers. I snapped pictures of many intriguing and exotic birds and I never grew tired of watching flamingos fly through the air in great numbers, swooping down to skim across the surface of the water. I gazed in amazement at the enormous wingspan of the Great White Pelican. The massive Marabou Stork, standing up to 5 feet tall, kept a watchful eye on groups of flamingos, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
Nature and animals are so fascinating to witness in their natural environments. One of the best ways to visit and admire wildlife, like the birds of Lake Elmenteita, is by participating in a travel volunteer program. These special volunteer projects contribute to making the world a much better place. There isn’t a greater feeling in the world than being part of experiences like these.