As a result of nomination by the Kenyan Government, the Kenya lake system in the Great Rift Valley has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The BirdLife International Africa Secretariat, and other stakeholders including Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya), the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service worked on a report of the importance of the Kenya Lake System which was used in the Government submission.

The new natural World Heritage Site comprises three relatively shallow, interlinked lakes in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya. Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Elementaita are all individually recognised by BirdLife as Important Bird Areas, covering an area of 32,034 hectares.

BirdLife is pressing for the entire African segment of the Great Rift Valley to be recognised as a World Heritage Site. It is based on the proposition that the migration of 5,000 million birds of more than 350 species through the valley is a phenomenon of outstanding universal value, as defined by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

“The Kenya Rift Lakes is a major inscription for UNESCO and a powerful stepping stone for the conservation of whole of the Great Rift Valley”
said Dr Julius Arinaitwe, Director of the BirdLife International African Partnership Secretariat.

All three lakes regularly support large foraging populations of Near Threatened Lesser Flamingos, sometimes reaching  two million in number at
Lake Bogoria, which at times also supports the highest population of Greater Flamingo in the entire Great Rift Valley chain of alkaline lakes. Lake
Elementaita is a key breeding site for White Pelican, with over 8,000 breeding pairs, the largest in Africa.  In total, more than 400 species of birds have been recorded on and around the lakes, and the area is important for wintering and stop-over populations of over 50 Palaearctic migrant species.

While not amounting to formal protection, Natural World Heritage Site status will give the three lakes an international profile, greatly
enhancing the prospects that their beauty and biodiversity value will be respected and conserved. BirdLife has prepared an analysis, which makes the case for supporting a “serial transnational nomination process” for sites in the African Great Rift Valley to be inscribed on the World Heritage list. Twenty-four sites are identified on the basis that they play a major role as stop-over points in the Africa-Eurasian bird migration cycle, nesting sites and/or migratory soaring bird bottleneck sites.

The 24 identified sites are in ten African countries: Egypt (3 sites); Djibouti (2); Ethiopia (5); Kenya (3); Uganda (3); Tanzania (3); Zambia
(1), Mozambique (1), Malawi (1) and Botswana (1), with one transnational site – Lake Tanganyika – shared by four countries, Burundi, DRC, Tanzania and Zambia.

BirdLife has proposed the inclusion of Lake Natron in Tanzania as a potential candidate site to be considered in the second cycle of nominations. Lake Natron is the breeding site of all the Lesser Flamingos in East Africa, and around three-quarters of the entire global population, but is threatened by a bid to exploit its alkaline waters for soda-ash. The nomination of Lake Natron is supported from many quarters, including the IUCN, Africa World Heritage Fund, BirdLife Partners in GRV countries, and AEWA (the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds).