After a few days at Kenya’s Shaba National Reserves, we moved on to Lake Nakuru National Park. This entailed a bone-rattling six-hour drive, although the first part of the journey was through the Buffalo Springs game reserve. It was interesting to casually drive by groups of zebra, giraffe and gazelles on our way from one destination to another. Quite a contrast to our normal morning commute at home.
By mid-afternoon, we’d arrived at our destination in the Rift Valley, a geographical crevice that runs through the middle of Kenya and stretches more than 3,500 miles across the continent. Nakuru is one of several soda lakes in this region, all of which have warm alkaline water as a result of ancient volcanic deposits and thus an abundance of blue-green algae. Fortuitously, for tourists at least, this algae is a staple of the daily diet for Kenya’s pink flamingos and hundreds of thousands of birds make their home in the area.
It began raining during our afternoon game drive at Nakuru, but we still saw an abundance of zebras, along with buffaloes and hippos by the water and a tribe of baboons along one of the roadways. We also saw two rhinos from close range and had a medium distance sighting of three leopards. This gave us the satisfaction of knowing that we’d completed our sightings of the so-called Big Five, as we saw lions, elephants and buffalo in Shaba.
We asked our guide, Zach, why these particular animals made up the Big Five. After all, they weren’t necessarily the five most popular safari animals.
“It has nothing to do with safari popularity,” he explained, “but with toughness. These are the five ‘toughest’ game animals.”
Lisa and I later decided there should be a Big Ten for safari purposes. The Big Five can retain their importance, of course – who are we to argue with them? But then we decided that giraffes and zebras should be included on our Big Ten list, being that they are unique, fun to gaze at and popular with tourists. Also, gazelles were Big Ten worthy, since they are extraordinarily graceful and beautiful to watch.
For the ninth and tenth members of our club, we added animals that were top attractions in Kenya. These included the wildebeest, a popular sight during part of the year at Masai Mara, and pink flamingos, which are predominantly found at the soda lakes of the Rift Valley.
It was our experience at Lake Nakuru that prompted us to include flamingos on our Big Ten list. We’d heard they were an interesting sight, but we weren’t prepared for the full impact of seeing tens of thousands of pink flamingos strutting around the perimeter of a single lake. This was one of the most visually interesting spectacles we saw on the safari. From a distance, it appeared the water was ringed with stretches of pink sand. But as we approached, it became apparent this was an illusion, caused by the presence of more pink flamingoes than we ever knew existed, all living together on the edge of a lake.
This was the only time all week that we were allowed out of the safari vehicle to approach animals. We walked along the beachfront and gaped in amazement at the thousands of pink flamingoes squeezed together in front of us – feeding, walking, flying, landing. And the noise! It’s remarkable, the volume of sound that can be produced by all of those squawking animals.
Interestingly, as we walked towards the birds, who formed a ring perhaps 15 or 20 feet deep along the perimeter of the lake, they edged away from us in unison. They moved calmly, and not in panic, but a giant pink wave would invariably form opposite whichever direction we moved. If we walked straight towards the water, the birds in front of us would disperse into a semicircle. If we walked left or right, the wave would move in that direction. We felt like flamingo conductors.
It was raining fairly steadily at this point, but we were entranced and didn’t want to leave the flamingos. So we stood there for long minutes on the edge of the lake, hoods pulled over our heads, no sound but for the clamor of birds and the drumming of raindrops, thousands of pink flamingos forming a dreamlike picture in front of us, and we breathed in the sweet smell of rain on a warm African afternoon.
Photo credit: Syllabub via Wikimedia Commons.