- Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for its population of up to 1.5 million non-breeding Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor, has become the first National Park in Africa to be branded as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
The branding is a triumph for BirdLife Partner NatureKenya, which began identifying IBAs within the country in 1995.
Some 450 bird species have been recorded in and around Lake Nakuru, including Endangered Madagascar Pond-heron Ardeola idea, Near Threatened Grey-crested Helmet-shrike Prionops poliolophus and Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus.
According to BirdLife, the site is also key for regionally important numbers of congregatory waterbirds such as Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, African Spoonbill Platalea alba, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus and Grey-headed Gull Larus cirrocephalus.
“The IBA branding makes Lake Nakuru National Park part of the global network of places recognised for their outstanding value to bird conservation,” said Kenya Wildlife Service Director Dr Julius Kipng’etich. He added that Nakuru’s new status was a huge boost to the KWS’s efforts to market the lake as: “The world’s greatest ornithological spectacle”.
Kenya’s Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Dr Noah Wekesa, said that IBA status would raise awareness and thus reduce stress on the lake’s birds. According to the Environment News Service, he added that other IBAs, such as those around Lake Victoria and in the Cherang'ani Hills, will be used to extend and market Kenya’s ecotourism circuits.
At the same ceremony, the Minister launched the Fourth Edition of the ‘Checklist of the Birds of Kenya’, which now lists 1,100 species, and is available from NatureKenya.
Income from the 300,000 visitors to Lake Nakuru each year supports conservation work at other, less glamorous but no less important, Protected Areas. However, the flamingos and other spectacular birds and large mammals at Lake Nakuru are suffering the short-term effects of the severe drought affecting the country.
"Lake Nakuru IBA is crucial for Kenya’s tourism industry which is worth US$ 1 billion per year,” said Dr Julius Arinaitwe - BirdLife Africa’s IBA Programme Manager. “Every effort should be made to protect it from the human-induced threats that it is currently facing”.
Longer term problems include the extensive clearance of the Mau Forest by settlers, loggers and charcoal makers, which has reduced the forest’s capacity to hold and release water during the rainy season. Much of Lake Nakuru’s water is provided by four rivers which originate in the Mau Forest.
“There is need to look at the entire water-catchment to conserve wetland IBAs such as Lake Nakuru”, said Paul Matiku - NatureKenya Executive Director. “Even well-protected sites such as Lake Nakuru are threatened by unsustainable land use upstream”.
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