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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Industry 'threat' to rare African flamingo
By Adam Mynott
BBC East Africa correspondent

Plans to build a soda ash plant alongside a lake in Tanzania threaten the future of one of the world's most beautiful birds, a rare species of flamingo, according to wildlife experts.

Lesser flamingos on Lake Natron. Photo: John Karmali
Lake Natron is a vital breeding site for the lesser flamingo
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has condemned the proposals for the industrial plant next to Lake Natron, where 75% of the world's population of lesser flamingos gather to breed in the summer.

It is one of the most iconic and beautiful sights in Africa: the brilliant pink fringe around Lake Natron formed by half a million lesser flamingos strutting in the lake's shallow waters.

Lake Natron, close to Tanzania's border with Kenya in the Rift Valley, is a soda lake rich in salt, vitamins and bacteria which the flamingos feed on.

It is the most important breeding site for the lesser flamingo, a bird whose future is far from secure.

It is the salt in Lake Natron that has attracted the attention of industrialists who want to build a soda ash plant next to the lake.

Map showing Tanzania's Lake Natron
Lake Natron Resources Ltd, linked to the Indian multi-national Tata company, is holding a meeting on Thursday to outline its proposals.

A spokesperson for the consultants working for the company said the scheme was in the very early stages of planning and it wanted to hear from all parties which have an interest in the lake, including naturalists and environmental groups.

The RSPB says they have not been invited.

Dr Chris Magin of the RSPB says the industrial plans "are bonkers", and threaten to mark the beginning of the end for the lesser flamingo.

Dr Magin also expressed concern about rumoured plans to introduce a non-indigenous hybrid shrimp into the lake to make the waters more saline.

"Bringing an alien species into the lake could cause damage that no-one can foresee," he said.

Lesser flamingo. Photo: Graham McCulloch
The lesser flamingo is close to being an endangered species
"The world is already reeling from the consequences of deliberate and accidental introduction of alien species, like mink in the UK, rabbits in Australia and Nile Perch in Lake Victoria in Africa."

Norconsult, the company behind Thursday's meeting, said there were no plans to introduce any alien species, and any proposals put forward would be conducted with particular care and attention to the environment.

The lesser flamingo is a rare bird and close to being put on the endangered species list.

They are said to be very sensitive to alterations in water conditions, and the RSPB fears that if they are forced to leave Lake Natron, it may precipitate the extinction of the species.

Flamingos in Africa's Rift Valley are already facing an uncertain future because of the effects of global warming on the lakes they breed and feed on.

Tanzania probes flamingo deaths
15 Jul 04 |  Africa
Warning over Flamingo deaths
10 Jun 01 |  Africa
Country profile: Tanzania
21 Jun 07 |  Country profiles

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