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The Great Lakes of Kenya

The Great Rift Valley has some of the most remarkable lakes in the world with an astonishing biodiversity and Lake Victoria – though not situated in the Rift Valley, is the second largest freshwater lake in the world if Michigan-Huron is counted as two lakes. All of Kenyas lakes are an ornithologists delight with a list of birds exeeding 450 species. The lakes more or less fall into two categories; freshwater lakes such as Lake Victoria, Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo and alkaline lakes such as Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Elementeita and lake Magadi.

Morning in the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria just outside Kisumu. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

The other grand lake of the region is Lake Turkana – the world’s largest permanent desert lake and though its waters are potable but not palatable, it is the world’s largest alkaline lake with its far northern end crossing into Ethiopia.

The above image gives an indication of the great diversity of birds that lives along the Rift Valley lakes: a yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis) making behavioral displays shares a diminutive islet in Lake Victoria with four other species of birds – a pelican, some cormorants, a heron and some African Openbill Storks (Anastomus lamelligerus). Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Most of the lakes have huge populations of tilapia fish which is very tasty, and the huge Nile perch – some weighing up to 100-200 kg are to be found in Lake Turkana and in Lake Victoria. The Nile perch was probably introduced to lake Victoria in the 1960’s with catastrophic results; the ferocious predator almost wiped out the majority of the indigenous species of cichlids in the lake.

A hippo a few hundred metres from Kisumu Yacht Club and Hippo Point. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Many of the lakes are inhabited by hippos, crocodiles and in Lake Victoria there are also spotted-necked otters. A wide array of other animals are also to be seen on the shore of the lakes when they come to drink and bathe.

A kamongo - or lungfish has been captured in the Winam Gulf a few km from Kisumu. The kamongo is also a favourite dish for the scarce but fascinating shoebill. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

Despite its gigantic size, Lake Victoria is not very deep and in Winam Gulf fishermen are often seen wading in the lake in order to empty their nets. Besides the usual risks associated with being a fisherman, in Kenya there are a few more to consider as people often share the same territory as crocodiles and hippos. Nevertheless, due to the need for crocodiles to regulate their body temperature, they usually dont come close to where most people live as they prefer to have access to places where they can bask undisturbed on a sandy beach. Still occassional fatal encounters occur between man and beasts when sharing the same space

A malachite kingfisher moves with lightning speed like a jewel in the air along the shore of lake Victoria. Photo © Mikkel Alexander Grabowski

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