You may have heard of this place, or at least seen clips from it on TV; where thousands of thousands, sometimes millions, of bright pink flamingos gather in a great spectacle on one single lake. Does it sound familiar? Well, what you have seen on TV is not special effects, it is a real place with real birds and you can go there to see it. The place to go is Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya.
Lake Nakuru is conveniently located close to the Masai Mara which makes it a popular destination for safari tourists. And watching flamingos is essentially the only thing you do at this destination. It might not sound like the most thrilling activity, but when the number of birds exceeds a million, sometimes two million, it suddenly becomes more exhilarating! The sight can only be described as unbelievable, when the blue lake seems to disappear under a massive layer of hungry, pink flamingos. And soon after you might see the sky turn pink, as the entire flock of birds decides to take off at the same time.
There is of course a reason why so many birds choose to dine at the same spot. Lake Nakuru is full of yummy flamingo food; algae. The warm alkaline water in the lake is ideal for algae to thrive. And the flamingos actually help their existence by feeding the algae with their droppings. The result is a little ecosystem where scientists have estimated that flamingos consume 250 000 kilos of algae per hectare per year!
The only problem for tourists in this matter is the timing. There is no such thing as a good season and bad season for watching flamingos at Lake Nakuru. The seasons only affect the water level, and naturally the water is high during wet season and low during dry season. But the birds are there, on and off, all year around. What matters to the birds are other conditions, like the amount of algae. If there is no algae, the birds will simply fly to another lake. And most people will book their trip long before they know what the algae concentration will look like. So I can only wish you the best of luck!
Though, if you decide to go, remember that as tourists we have a responsibility to be careful about how we affect the local wildlife. And sometimes it might not be possible to be careful enough, as our bare presence itself might be all it takes to have an undesirable impact. Over recent years the flamingo population has been observed to decline, and one reason can be the large stream of tourists flowing through the Rift Valley. This is not proven, and there are several other causes that may have a much stronger effect on the bird population. But we should be aware of the possibility and take it into consideration. So as you travel, keep reminding yourself to minimize your impact on the environment!