Traders have flocked Lake Olbolosat in Nyandarua County to exploit the tourism potential that has come with the arrival of thousands of flamingos.
Local and international tourists are beginning to visit the lake to see the birds, which have been migrating from lakes Nakuru and Bogoria since the beginning of the year.
Last year, the lake had only a handful of visitors, while the local community had nothing to be proud of, except persistent complaints and protests over human-wildlife conflicts by marauding hippos.
Mr Joel Mwangi, an artisan, is among locals that are capitalising on the flamingo arrivals by selling household decor and artwork to visitors.
Next to him is Ms Ruth Nyaguthii, who sells beads, necklaces, and other ornaments, while other traders have introduced make-shift kiosks along the roads leading to the lake.
“I was initially involved in fishing but the number of fish kept reducing, rendering me jobless. I left the fishing job for casual jobs, but I am now back because the number of visitors, especially over the weekend has increased,” said Mr Robert Waweru, who offers canoe rides and is also a tour guide.
Mr Waweru earns between Sh1,000 and ShSh3,000 a day in his new venture.
“I appeal to the county government to aggressively market the lake to attract more visitors, which would translate to more business opportunities,” said the boat rider.
Mr James Mbuku, who lives near the lake, says the flamingos started arriving about a month ago, leading to increased activities at the lake by residents, tourists, and the county government departments eager to capitalise on the birds to promote tourism.
Experts attribute flamingo arrivals to a conducive environment and friendly ecosystem after an increase in the water level in Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria, which have destroyed food and the bird's habitat.
Ms Mary Waithera, the chief officer of Tourism, and Natural Resources said the birds are moving in masses, decorating, and occupying the lake in strategic areas, which is a good thing for Nyandarua tourism.
According to Mr Mbuku, there were about 50 flamingos two weeks ago, which Ms Waithera says has increased to about 300, and more are still flying in.
“Lake Olbolosat was not affected by floods that have destroyed the habitats in other lakes. Lake Olbolosat, both alkaline and freshwater, has retained its alkalinity, which means the algae is in plenty, and that explains why they are coming there to feed. They are moving in en masse. They were on one part of Makereka and we think because of the winds to the Westside they have also occupied other parts, they are moving with winds to get food,” said Ms Waithera.
The roads department has moved construction equipment acquired last year to repair and level the roads leading to the lake.
“This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to gamble with, the arrival of the birds has made the department prioritise the rehabilitation of the access roads to the lake. Increased tourism activities mean more investment opportunities for the local communities, job creation, and revenue to the county. We urge the locals to take advantage of the bird's arrival and improved road network for economic gains,” said Roads Executive Member Mary Mugwanja.
Mr George Ndung’u, a bird expert, explained that the lake traditionally records the presence of migratory birds, some from Asia and Europe but the presence of the flamingo is due to the change of the water chemistry with improved pH levels.
Ms Milka Wanjiru says the presence of the flamingo is not likely to negatively affect the ecosystem, but the department with other stakeholders are doing further research, which also includes bird counting, with community partners on how to conserve and improve the ecosystem.
“The lake is very rich in biodiversity, we have wildlife in the lake, hippos, fish among others. For us to protect that biodiversity we need to protect and gazette the lake under the Wildlife Act. It means that it will become a national reserve under the county government of Nyandarua, which can enter a management agreement with KWS to enable us to manage and conserve the 4,800 square km lake because they have the capacity,” said Ms Wanjiru.