Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park Named Important Bird Area

NAIROBI, Kenya, September 24, 2009 (ENS) – Lake Nakuru National Park in central Kenya, internationally known for its concentration of bright pink flamingos, has been designated as an international bird sanctuary.

It becomes the first national park in Africa to be recognized as an Important Bird Area under the international IBA program established by the UK-based global organization BirdLife International and its worldwide network of partners.

At an event September 19 to mark the park’s new status, Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa said Kenya is one of the leading countries in Africa for avian biodiversity.

Kenya Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa, left, and KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich unveil the new sign at Lake Nakuru National Park. (Photo courtesy KWS)

Dr. Wekesa hailed the new IBA status for Lake Nakuru National Park as “an impetus for raising awareness in order to reduce stress on birds.”

The minister announced that Kenya will be diversifying its tourist routes by opening up Western and Northern circuits. He said the key to this diversification is the IBA sites on the shores of Lake Victoria and Cherang’ani Hills, which will be marketed to open up the areas for development.

Kenya Wildlife Service Director Julius Kipng’etich said the park’s new status is a huge boost to its marketing efforts as “the world’s greatest ornithological spectacle.”

The celebration Wednesday also was the occasion for the launch of the fourth edition of the Checklist of the Birds of Kenya, which lists 1,100 species of birds recorded in the country.

The park, inhabited by more than 450 bird species, is world famous for its 1.5 million flamingos, which cover the lake edge in a layer of bright pink.

Lake Nakuru was the country’s first national park to have birds as its primary attraction, and is one of the most popular parks in Kenya.

The park is called a “bird watcher’s paradise” by the Kenya Wildlife Service under a national program aimed at designating selected national parks and reserves as world class destinations and conservation areas.

Lake Nakuru National Park will be the first of over 7,500 sites identified as Important Bird Areas in nearly 170 countries that will have an IBA logo displayed in signage.

The proactive involvement of Kenya in the IBA process started in 1995 with surveys to identify sites that qualified for designation. Nature Kenya, the country’s BirdLife partner, together with researchers from the National Museums of Kenya and others, identified 60 Important Bird Areas in Kenya.

Flamingos at Lake Nakuru National Park (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Today, the Important Bird Area Program is coordinated nationally by Nature Kenya, also known as the East Africa Natural History Society, a membership organization which was founded in 1909 and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

By working with government agencies and community groups, Nature Kenya seeks to interest and activate a broad network of supporters to ensure that all of Kenya’s Important Bird Areas are properly managed and conserved.

Once Important Bird Areas have been identified and recognized, the IBA process expands to involve conservation advocacy, action and monitoring in order to protect these sites in perpetuity.

Important Bird Areas attract interest from birdwatchers, conservationists and planners, governments and donor agencies. Kenyan officials hope Lake Nakuru National Park’s new status will benefit the park in these ways.

The IBA launch event coincided with the annual Cycle with the Rhino 50 kilometer (30 mile) bicycle race, which is organized in collaboration with corporate organizations and the Nakuru town business community to raise money for conserving Lake Nakuru.

Sponsors of the cyclists raised Sh7.25 million (US$97,770), most of which will be used for building a modern baboon-proof electric fence around the park and mitigating human-wildlife conflict.

Lake Nakuru National Park was created in 1961 as a bird sanctuary. At that time, the famous American bird artist and author Roger Tory Peterson called the massed flamingos on the lake “the world’s greatest ornithological spectacle.”

A northern extension was added to the park in 1974 and the lake was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990.

Currently, the park has over 450 varieties of birds, many of them migrant visitors from the Northern hemisphere. The lake, surrounded by wooded and bushy grasslands, is inhabited by 56 species of mammals, including white rhino and buffalo.

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