More than three-quarters of the world's lesser flamingoes — thought to number at least several million — live around the salt lakes that dot the vast Rift Valley.



THINK PINK in the wilds of East Africa.

At Tanzania’s Lake Natron, lesser flamingoes are a pastel crowd, their salmon-colored plumage glowing as vast flocks fly overhead or wade in a shallow lake.

More than three-quarters of the world’s lesser flamingoes — thought to number at least several million — live around the salt lakes that dot the vast Rift Valley. Lake Natron (above), the most caustic lake of all, is the birds’ breeding — and feeding — epicenter.

It’s not the Africa of safari fantasies, of waving grasses and elephants and lions. Instead, it’s a sun-scorched, volcanic land and alkaline lake where the lesser flamingoes (so called as they’re the smallest of five flamingo species) thrive, uniquely evolved to feed on Lake Natron’s spirulina algae.

Looming over the lake is the 9,718-foot Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano that splatters out lava, the molten rock quickly hardening into fantastically shaped horns along its flanks.

The local Masai herders call it the “Mountain of God” and make pilgrimages. Scientists, geologists and adventurous tourists climb Ol Doinyo Lengai, marveling at its ongoing lava flows.

The lesser flamingoes? They just cruise past, pretty in pink.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.