Above: Grey crowned cranes in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Published: The East African Nation media 19 to 25 October 2019

The salt ribbon around the lake has disappeared, swallowed by the rising water. It’s a phenomenon that researchers studying the lake since the first recorded data, attribute to a 50 year cycle that happened in 1901 and 1963.

Drwoned trees in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Drowned trees in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

In any case the lakes of the Rift Valley are truly intriguing with their rise and fall. In 1994 and 2010, the lake was almost dry because the rivers Njoro, Makalia, Larmudiac and Enderit weren’t recharging it. Now they are in full spate with the rains, flowing with the rich earth coloured soil from the Mau escarpment.

By the lakeshore, a small flock of Lesser flamingos look comical on their reed-thin legs with their long necks dropped down. Only the head is in the water.

Greater flamingos feeding in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Greater flamingos feeding in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

It’s an amazing feeding technique of the flamingos. With the head inverted in the water, the birds suck in the water through the beak, raise their necks and jettison the water out with the tongue leaving only the miniscule algae to digest. Without this amazing technique, the birds would swallow huge quantities of salt water, and die from dehydration.

At this point we can’t get out of the car to walk along the famous lake edge of Nakuru like in the old days and admire the pink mass of the Lesser flamingos that were more common when the lake was really alkaline. It’s then the pretty pink bird thrives on the miniscule algae in the alkaline water.

But in the last ten years, Lake Nakuru has gone through a phenomenal change because of the increase in the level of the water. It’s now acting more like a freshwater lake.

It’s in contrast to 2010 when it was thought that the lake was drying up, just like the other rift valley lakes up north like the freshwater Baringo and the alkaline Bogoria.

Then came heavy rains filling the rivers that flow into Nakuru and other lakes like Baringo and Bogoria and almost overnight the lakes rose from shallow pans to impressive lakes.

The Early Morning Game Drive

The sun is rising and so is the morning mist over the lake. Tall acacias that once supported yellow barks stand submerged and wilted in the lake.  In the lush grassland, it’s the buffalos that rule the roost. You turn left or right, you see buffalos. Little calves stand quietly in the herds except for one bouncing baby happily running around.

On higher ground we scan the canopy of the yellow-barked acacias for the leopard but instead we’re rewarded by a solitary lioness in the mist striding away and too far for a decent picture. In 2017, two females crossed the fence into the neighbouring Soysambu Conservancy where lions hadn’t been seen since the early 1900s. Well settled in their new territory, the lionesses called Fliir and Valentine mated with the lion from the park and raised their cubs in the conservancy.

Great white pelicans swiming around the flooded ofices in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
Great white pelicans swimming around the flooded offices in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

The flooded lake has swallowed most of the roads including the main gate. A flotilla of Greater white pelicans swims around the office block, a comical sight. They are herding the fish below. To a synchronized beat, they dip their enormous yellow bills in the water to swallow their catch.

A solitary black rhino is too far off the road and in its solitary bliss is enjoying a spa-day without annoying humans destroying its peace. The rhino ranger on foot keeps vigil on his precious charge.

The Rothschild giraffe, an endangered sub-species of the giraffe looks ghostly white in the mist with a pair of white rhino grazing on the juicy grass.

A few minutes later we’re on the high cliff looking at the land below.

The flooded laken Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat (800x600)
The flooded lake Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

It’s the lake that fills most of the park with precious little land left for the terrestrial animals. On the other side of the fence is the expanding town of Nakuru.

Rock hyraxes sun themselves in the morning light, strangely but truly related to the gargantuan elephant.

Returning to lower ground, Makalia thunders over the high rocky craig and flows into the lake. Early in the year, it was a trickle. Now the river is full again and the waterfall mighty.

Makalia Falls in Lake Nakuru National Park. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Ten thousand years ago, the three lakes strung close to each other, Nakuru, Elementeita and Naivasha, were a single fresh water lake, with a community of hunter-gatherers and big game around. The fossilised evidence is in the nearby prehistoric sites of Hyrax and Kariandusi.

Fact File

For a weekend break from Nairobi drive 168 km northwest along the spectacular Great Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru by passing Lake Naivasha and Lake Elementeita.

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Crested eagle Lake Nakuru. Copyright Rupi Mangat

Amongst its accolades, Lake Nakuru National Park is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, a wetland of international importance (Ramsar), and a Key Biodiversity Area and famous for its birds.

In the park there are lodges like Sarova Lion Hill for full board if you truly want a break from cooking. There are also full furnished houses belonging to KWS and Wildlife Clubs of Kenya if you want to cater for yourself and a host of campsites.