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Flamingos at Lake Nakuru, Kenya. When the water levels rose eight years ago, the flamingos moved to nearby lakes, but they have started to return. Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner

Pink flamingos return to Kenya’s Lake Nakuru after an eight-year absence, offering hopes of a tourism rebound

  • Huge flocks of flamingos used to attract crowds of visitors to Lake Nakuru in Kenya, until eight years ago when they vanished
  • The birds left when rising water levels reduced their feeding and breeding grounds, but they have started to return

Eight years ago, rising water levels in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru drove away the clouds of pink flamingos that were the park’s biggest draw. Rangers say their disappearance triggered a drop in visitor numbers by for the Nakuru National Park.

Now they’re back.

The return has rekindled hopes of a gradual rebound in an area heavily reliant on tourists for employment and revenues.

On a recent visit, flocks of flamingos could be seen foraging for food in the lake’s turquoise waters, while others flapped in a sine-wave formation above. A rhinoceros grazed nearby.

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru on August 27, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner

“With the increase in the number of flamingos, we have started seeing visitors also increasing,” Caroline Mwebia, the park’s tourism warden, said. She declined to give visitor numbers and the Kenya Wildlife Service did not return calls seeking comment. But nearly a quarter of a million visitors came in 2011, the last year figures are publicly available for.

Flamingos eat insect larvae and algae that gives them their pink hue. High water levels reduce the birds’ ideal breeding and feeding grounds.

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru before they left for other lakes. Photo: Getty Images

When Nakuru lake first rose, Mwebia said, flamingos left for nearby lakes like Bogoria and Baringo, where waters were shallower. But heavy rains in recent years have also flooded those lakes, forcing the birds to return to Nakuru, where they are such an intrinsic attraction that the street leading up to the park is decorated with flamingo-shaped lamp posts.

The global coronavirus pandemic has battered Kenya’s tourism industry, but Nakuru at least sees a bright (pink) spot on the horizon.