Lake Natron flamingos still in danger

The spectacular lesser flamingos of Tanzania’s Lake Natron remain in grave danger despite plans to relocate development away from their most important breeding site in the world.

Developers have scrapped plans to build a soda ash factory next to the lake, deep in the Great Rift Valley, but instead want to locate the plant, housing for workers and their families, and other associated buildings, just 22 miles away.

Their plan to extract 500,000 tonnes of soda ash a year from Lake Natron and install pipes and roads across the lake, has not changed, however. That means the hundreds of thousands of lesser flamingos breeding on Lake Natron are still likely to leave if the development goes ahead.

Lota Melamari, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, said: “Lake Natron’s flamingos are one of the world’s greatest wildlife attractions. They are a resource that must not be destroyed.”

At a meeting in Dar es Salaam last week, hosted by the World Bank, developer Tata Chemicals Limited withdrew its discredited environmental assessment for the project. A new one will be produced, based on development further from the lake.

The proposal is backed by the Tanzanian government, which has formed a management company with Tata, but is fiercely opposed by more than 30 NGOs in Tanzania, the Tanzanian Tourist Board and conservationists across the world including Sir David Attenborough and the RSPB.

Wildlife experts say the development should be abandoned completely because the birds cannot be safeguarded from the disturbance and predation the scheme would cause.

Campaigners are hopeful that the Tanzanian government is now wavering in its support for development at Lake Natron.

Its new Environment Minister, Dr Batilda Burian recently warned investors that their plans would be thrown out if they failed to quell environmental and social fears.

The spectacle created by Lake Natron’s lesser flamingos lures thousands of tourists each year to Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Lake Natron has been East Africa’s only nesting site for the birds for 40 years and the vast majority of the region’s 1.5 to 2.5 million lesser flamingos – three-quarters of the world’s population – are though to have hatched on the lake’s salt flats.

Dr Chris Magin, an International Officer at the RSPB, said: “There is no way a project of this magnitude can operate without permanently scarring the Rift Valley landscape, seriously damaging the livelihoods of many local people and harming wildlife, especially the highly sensitive lesser flamingo.”

Sereno Shao, of the Tanzania Tourist Board, said: “The soda ash proposal must be critically analysed given that Tanzania earns more than US$1 billion from tourism. Our dream of attracting one million tourists by 2010 may not be achieved if we damage key attractions like Lake Natron.”

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