The most dramatic yet the least-visited of the Great Rift Valley lakes, Lake Bogoria is a sinuous pewter-blue ribbon of mirrored water often pink-frosted with over a million flamingoes. On its western shores erupt the devilish spouting geysers and bubbling cauldrons of Kenya’s most spectacular volcanic springs, to the east it is bounded by the forbidding walls of the towering Siracha Escarpment, and to the south by gentle groves of fig trees and golden-green acacias, in whose shade linger the rare and beautiful greater kudu.
The best place to see the ‘King of the Antelopes’
Bogoria is one of the few sanctuaries in Kenya where you may be fortunate enough to catch an early morning or late evening glimpse of the rare greater kudu. Abundant until 1960 when its numbers were decimated by rinderpest, this large, slender grey antelope is distinguished by a pair of magnificent spiral horns and six to eight prominent vertical white stripes on either flank. Extremely shy and preferring to rest in the shade during the heat of the day, the kudus can best be spotted amid the acacia groves of the Sogomo Causeway, immediately adjacent to the Acacia Campsite (turn left by the sign reading ‘Saragi Escape Route’).
The Bogoria cast
On the plains to the north of the lake, Burchell’s zebra, impalas, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, and warthogs can be seen grazing the shoreline though the majority of the reserve’s larger animals tend to concentrate south of the hot springs. Nimble klipspringers and gregarious rock hyraxes inhabit the steep rock faces, and delicate pairs of Kirk’s dik-dik quiver amid the dense thorn bush. Around the hot springs and the campsites are plenty of vervet monkeys and olive baboons whilst along the roads you may have sightings of large monitor lizards and massive meandering leopard tortoises. The reserve also hosts a small herd of buffaloes, while its predators include leopards, spotted hyenas and mongooses.
The only constant alkaline habitat in the Rift Valley, Lake Bogoria provides a major feeding site for its itinerant population of an estimated two million lesser flamingoes, which increasingly since the 1990’s tend to frequent Bogoria’s waters rather than the more polluted waters of Lake Nakuru. Promenading the shoreline in shifting lines of mature pink and immature white, they can be seen scything their beaks to and fro to sift algae from the water. Some stand on one leg, others chug through the water like ducks or upend and kick their shocking pink legs in the air; all murmur, honk and mutter in incessant dialogue, and overhead cyclamen and black flight formations arrow in, tiptoeing briefly on the water before fluttering to an elegant landing.
A lake of shifting shades of blue and green
A grey-blue ribbon of water that appears almost oily in its passivity, the 16 km long, 1-4km wide, 5.4 – 10m deep Lake Bogoria is fed by the Sandai (or Waseges) River, which rises on the eastern scarp of the Rift Valley; also by its own hot springs. Like most of the Rift Valley lakes, Bogoria has no outlet and this coupled with the searing heat of its climate causes intense evaporation. The resultant alkaline water provides the ideal habitat for the blue-green algae, Spirulina, which is the staple food of flamingoes. Consisting of three basins and two ‘necks’ of land, the lake is bordered for the length of its eastern shore by the starkly furrowed walls of the Siracha Escarpment, which rises 610m above its mirrored waters.
An insane vision of hell
Bogoria has around 200 hot springs in total but the largest and most spectacular collection erupts along the lakeside at Loburu, some 9 km from Loboi Gate. Characteristically signs of declining volcanic activity, hot springs are an indication that molten rock (magma) lies not far below the earth’s surface. Boiling up from beneath the precariously shallow crust of the earth at temperatures from 94-104°C, the diamond-clear water is scalding hot to the touch and wreathed in billows of steam. Bursting into bubbling pools and boiling waterfalls, many of the ochre-brown depressions centre on sulphurous rock sculptures from which angry geysers blow jets of boiling water several meters into the air. Surreally set against the pink of the flamingoes, the petrol-blue of the lake and the forbidding mass of the escarpment, and punctuated by the bizarre spectacle of visitors boiling eggs in the writhing waters, the scene resembles a vision from an insanely beautiful hell.
Bogoria boasts over 222 species of birds. Common ostrich are plentiful on the lakeshores as well as blacksmith’s plovers – both of which nest here. Around the reserve’s three permanent swamps, black-headed herons, hadada and sacred ibis abound, but due to its high salinity the lake attracts only a few water birds, such as Cape teals, Egyptian geese, black-necked grebes, hamerkops and storks. Most easily spotted are the brilliant blue lilac-breasted rollers (above) and the magnificent grey-crowned cranes.
Titles old and new
According to local legend, Bogoria is known as ‘the place of the lost tribe’, because it was here that the God, Chebet, punished the Kamale tribe for their inhospitality by invoking a deluge, which drowned the village. The reserve became Kenya’s 3rd Ramsar site in 2001 (Convention of Wetlands of International Importance), and has also been designated a World Heritage Site).