A statement made by Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala at a stakeholders meeting in Naivasha, saying that Lake Nakuru National Park had ‘lost its lustre’, has been met with concern by the local tourism fraternity.

“To me, Lake Nakuru National Park is as good as dead…it is very sad,” was the statement made by the minister, blaming pollution and the migration of flamingos from the lake.

“Since the statement was widely publicised, many tour companies in Europe, South America and Far East have called and threatened to cancel their bookings,” says Director of Lake Nakuru Lodge, Joseph Muya: “With this kind of statement, clients both local and international are calling to enquire whether it’s still worthwhile to visit the park. This is raising a lot of concern to us in the hospitality industry as we have invested millions of shillings.”

The statement comes on the cusp of the country’s high tourist season, which starts seeing a rise in arrivals from June, says Muya.

Flamingos leaving the lake

CEO of the Flamingo Lakes Conservation Network, Jackson Raini, dismissed the assertion that flamingos had migrated due to pollution. A scientist, Raini instead attributed the migration to increased water levels at the lake. “There are about 5 000 flamingos at the lake despite the increasing water levels. The untrue statement that the lake was dead is alarming and may cripple domestic tourism at the park.” He adds that the birds may also have migrated due to the diminishing algae, which is their main food. “Algae thrive in highly salty water but the increased inflow of fresh water has diluted the lake’s salt, hence reducing the lake’s salinity levels.”

Chairman of the Nakuru County Tourism Association, John Mwangi, echoed the scientist's sentiments, saying that many tour companies in Europe, South America and the Far East had been calling and threatening to cancel their bookings due to Balala’s statement. “With this kind of statement, clients, both local and international, are calling to enquire whether it’s still worthwhile to visit the park.”

Second most beautiful spot in the world

“Lake Nakuru has been named the second most beautiful spot across the globe by the world’s reputable scientific and educational institution, the National Geographic, which means it has more to offer,” said Muya, and has often been described as a ‘birdwatcher’s paradise’ that lies on the floor of the Great Rift Valley with over 400 bird species. The lake is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Lake Nakuru also has Kenya’s largest population of rhinos, and was gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1960 – which was upgraded to National Park status in 1968.

Muya, who is also the founder of the Cycle with Rhino initiative, which seeks to raise funds to erect an electric fence around the 188sqm park, said: “It hurts me to read statements describing Lake Nakuru National Park as a dead facility, yet some of us have been travelling across the world marketing the park.”

Stakeholders have asked Balala’s office to issue a statement on the lake to counter the one made in Naivasha.