We have no idea what the world has in its bag. We can only envisage as far as our imagination would take us.

We have seen mysteries-thousands year old- getting solved with simple math- we have witnessed a town disappearing in a night- we have seen underwater monuments.

HOWEVER! What we haven’t seen or anticipated was animals turned into stones. This is equally intriguing and creepy, all at the same time.

lake natron facts
lake natron facts

Why would animals turn into rocks?

Even if it’s a real story, how did they turn into rocks?

Is Lake Natron real?

What was the cause behind it?

Was it only animals that got affected, or humans were included, as well?

Let us take you through their history, what happened here and other aspects of this place.

Lake Natron pic
Lake Natron pic

Where is Lake Natron? Which River Drains into Lake Natron?

Lake Natron is located in the Arusha district in Tanzania. It is sited in the Gregory Rift; the lake is in the Lake Natron basin situated in Ramsar site lowland of international importance.

Lake natron derived its name after a mineral known as ‘Natron.’ It is an amalgamation of the chemicals comprising Hydrate Sodium Carbonate & Sodium Bicarbonate.

The Great Rift Valley was developed at a time when volcanic activity was common than now.

The rapid weathering of the several volcanic hills and mountains beside the Rift Valley has sustained volcanic ash in hollows and gives rise to deep sodium-rich oils.

Lake Natron images
Lake Natron images

Dense rains for a short term inundate the lakes with cold water and reduce the pH level dramatically because the rain is a bit acidic.

The mudflats encompassing the permanent water are just as harsh.

Temperatures are high, winds are robust, no vegetation, and movement over this dense, muddy surrounding is impossible for most creatures. 

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Lake Natron Fish

Due to the alkaline presence at a higher level which is 10.5, it holds the capacity to burn an animal that is not adaptive to such environ since the PH level is higher than the seawater.

How did alkaline formed in the water?

It is the direct result of sodium carbonate and other elements. It is grievously dangerous for a marine creature to be present inside the water.

Lake Natron fish
Lake Natron fish

However, the lake natron is a haven for ‘some’ aquatic species, algae, alkaline, tilapia fish.

This petite fish is about 10cm in measurement and lives on the hot spring bays’ harshness, where the water temperature is between 36-40°C.

It is prevalent in the saline lakes of the valley and is used to fight the high temperature and salinity of the lakes and the changes in circumstances due to rains.

What Makes the Lake Natron Red?

Even though the lake looks normal sometimes, after the temperature rises, the bacteria present inside the pond exudes a red pigment, resulting in coloring the lake red.

And since the bacteria still exist, this tedious landscape resonates the bizarre alien backdrop.

Lake Natron facts
Lake Natron

During the hottest period, the intensity of sodium carbonate increases to a greater extent, making the lake viscid.

The red color it exudes is called spirulina; along with red color, the lake also oozes blue and green algae.

And because the cyanobacteria are present in the water, photographers seize great mosaic designs of vivid red & orange in pictures.

The temperature here varies. The temperature here goes from mildly hot to hottest temperature, with 41’c, the significance of preserving the flamingos here is essential.

Though regardless of the harsh heat, flamingos can withstand such coarse climate.

In the course of the breeding season, flamingos use the lake as their breeding ground.

Lake Natron images
Lake Natron images

During this season the lake is of a little depth and develops small islands.

The flamingos then use these islands to create their nests on the formed islands in Lake Natron. They consume microorganisms and algae as a supply of food.

Nick Brandt, a renowned photographer, traveled to East Africa to attain some pictures for his book ‘Across the Ravaged land’ in 2011.

While he was still exploring the wildlife of Africa, he stumbled upon an astounding place. A natural lake with not so ‘normal’ landscape, the animals inside the lake were all turned into stone.

Lake Natron Animals

Brandt stated that when he saw those animals beside the lake, it shook him completely.

Lake Natron picture
Lake Natron picture

And he couldn’t think of anything than taking photographs of these creatures as if they were not dead.

The horrifying Lake Natron in northern Tanzania happens to be a salt lake, meaning that water runs in. However, it doesn’t gush out, it could only come out thru evaporation.

As the water evaporates gradually, it leaves behind a high dilution of salt and other chemicals, similarly to the minerals present at the Dead Sea and Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

He also found out that lake natron is unlike other lakes since it is heavily alkaline. And the ph level calculates 10.5 (as aforementioned), almost as high as ammonia.

The ph level is high enough to divest the ink of his film in seconds- he further claimed.

Lake Natron pictures
Lake Natron pictures

We have stated above that no marine creature would survive the lake; however, there are only one aquatic species Alcoapia Latilabris, along with few algae and, of course, the flamingos that consume the algae- could survive under such a harsh environment.

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Brandt postulates that the highly reflective, chemical condensed waters appear as a glass door, making the birds think they’re flying over a space. Recently a helicopter fell for this illusion, as well.

He tragically crashed his aircraft which was quickly got destroyed by the lake’s water.

He observed that the birds seem to be withered when the water ebbs. The chemically- preserved corpses wash up alongside the seashore.

Lake Natron animals
Lake Natron

However, the flamingo inhabitants are now at risk by a projected soda plant on the Ewaso Ngiro River, the prominent river nourishing Lake Natron. The harsh environment is making it hard for the flamingos to survive.

He said that he saw a whole herd of dead birds all washed up alongside the seashore together. It seems as if they are imitating each other.

In three weeks, he worked with the locals to acquire some of the samples that were fine- preserved.

The locals took him as some insane ‘white’ guy who’s offering money for the people to mainly go on a treasure hunt over the lake for some dead birds.

Once, a local came with a finely-preserved fish eagle, which was beautiful.

You’d be mad even to wonder- if can we swim in lake natron- Brandt, when he visited the lake, asserted that coming into contact with the water for the slightest bit is dangerous.

Even if you got a small cut, it’d be excruciating for you. Nobody would swim in it, NO ONE! It’d be utter madness.

Lake Natron so deadly
Lake Natron so deadly

When Brandt took some of Lake Natron’s distressing pictures for his book, he found that the stone statues of flamingos alongside other animals had remnants of chalky sodium on their bodies.

The photographs he took gives off a creepy feeling, however, as Brian Switek from National Geographic wrote an article said that the picture might offer an eerie feeling the lake itself is not so horrific, and several animals consider the lake their home.

However, how the animals died is still a mystery. However, the scientific facts might be intriguing. Before concluding anything, a thorough investigation is needed.

When was Lake Natron Discovered?

Before the Europeans discovered the lake in 1954, it was isolated and unknown.

Any ecological unevenness would make it difficult for the birds to survive, or even worse, become the reason for their extinction. The beauty of Lake Natron might vanish since there isn’t any protection available for the lake yet.

The nomads around here sometimes herd their cattle thru the lake, however, never stayed near the area.

Lake Natron photo
Lake Natron photo

Would you believe it if I tell you that this highly concentrated lake was once accustomed to being a significant freshwater lake about 5000-6000 years ago? And even before 6000 years ago, people inhabited here.

Lake Natron Facts

A 1.75 million years old jaw & teeth were discovered of a primitive East African hominid in 1959. The desiccated bone was nowhere near to that of calcified remains of Brandt’s finely preserved birds.

The lake is the only breeding location in East Africa for the 2.5 million Flamingos, who are nearly on the edge of extinction due to their dependency on the remaining breeding area.

As salinity intensifies, so do the number of cyanobacteria, the lake could support more nests for the flamingos.

These birds would gather along the saline lakes in the area, where they eat Spirulina which is a blue-green alga with red colour.

Lake Natron photos
Lake Natron photos

Lake Natron is safe for the flamingos to breed due to its corrosive environment since it acts as a barricade against predators attempting to reach their nests.

Lake natron creates a pretty geologically distinct and significant environment. Those species that are used to this environment cannot survive elsewhere.

Sadly, projected logging works threaten to disturb the gentle sensitivity stability.

Another project of the hydroelectric plant on the Ewaso River is under contemplation. Both of these plans would harshly affect the ecological balance of Lake Natron.

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Spotted Lake

Additionally, a soda plant might develop near the shore of the lake. This project would pull out the sodium carbonate from the lake’s water.

However, the chances for the survival of the flamingos in a changing environment is highly unlikely- almost non-existent.

Lake Natron pics
Lake Natron pics

The site around the salt lake is not populated. However, there is some shepherding and occasional cultivation.

Risks to the salinity balance from greater siltation invasion would come from projected logging in Lake Natron breakpoint.

Though development projects involve constructing a watercourse at the lake’s north end to hold the freshwater, the risk of concentration to this propagating ground might still be serious since there isn’t any protection given to the site yet.

According to the RSPB’s International officer for Africa, Chris Magin, the possibilities of the reduced flamingos constantly breeding are nowhere to be found. This project would take the flamingo’s population to the face of extinction.

Lake Natron facts
Lake Natron facts

75% of the world’s flamingos come from Lake Natron. At present, 50 east African conservation & environmental organizations are running a worldwide campaign to end the soda ash project construction by Tata Chemicals Ltd, Mumbai, India, and National Development of Tanzania.

Because of its distinct biodiversity, on 4th July 2001, Tanzania termed the lake basin to the Ramsar list of the wetland of International Importance.

The lake comes under the World Wildlife Fund East African halophytes ecoregion, as well.

Both Lake Natron and Bahl doesn’t come under the protected areas and haven’t been offered any protections.

Lake Natron tanznia
Lake Natron tanznia

However, the area encompassing Lake natron comes under a massive game administered area where hunting is allowed, however, it is controlled.

This proffer some protection to the wildlife of the area, though there’s no protection to the whole. Ecosystem

How to get to Lake Natron from Arusha? How to reach Lake Natron?

There two buses- coastline & Loliondo bus. Both travel to Loliondo town via Lake Natron. The coastline runs twice a week; the Loliondo bus runs every day except for the weekends.

Lake Natron pictures
Lake Natron pictures

Both the buses depart at 5: a.m. in the morning from Arusha stopover.

The ticket price is $15, and all the payments are made at the main gate.

We expect this bright red lake, which is undoubtedly an intriguing subject, is protected in its natural state. However, some animals might become a victim and be ‘protected’ by this lake; there is no disagreement that this lake assists in the continued existence of the lesser flamingos.


  1. Enjoyed this one, Lake Natron is a nice place, and this article fulfils all my needs related to this place


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