Five years ago, dead flamingos littered the drying shores of Lake Nakuru in Kenya's scenic Rift Valley. Sickly birds struggled to stand upright while stray dogs scavenged on the depleted flock.
NAKURU, Kenya -- Five years ago, dead flamingos littered the drying shores of Lake Nakuru in Kenya's scenic Rift Valley. Sickly birds struggled to stand upright while stray dogs scavenged on the depleted flock.
The once world-renowned heartland of the majestic birds -- with their long necks and striking pink, scarlet and black plumage -- was yet another depressing symbol of deforestation, pollution and global warming in Africa.
But now, after two years fighting to reverse their role in the damage, Nakuru's local community has set itself the task of replanting a whole forest they had razed as a measure of desperation in times of poverty.
They hope that as the flamingos return, so will the tourists.
"It was wrong to cut the trees but we had to. We burnt them all when we started farming," said Jane Macharia, who like so many others slashed the forest to make farmland when she came to Nakuru 10 years ago with no work or means to produce food.
"I needed land to survive," she explained, kneeling in the wet mud with a group committed to turning back the clock by planting saplings in the hills above the lake.
As the forests receded, the rains left too.
"TIME TO MAKE IT RIGHT"
Erosion from farming and the effects of global warming combined in the late 1990s to leave Lake Nakuru virtually uninhabitable for its famous birds.
The flock of millions -- drawing thousands of tourists to Nakuru each year -- was reduced to 10,000 by 1996.
"After all the destruction of the forests, the rivers had no water and all the flamingos were dying," the senior warden at Lake Nakuru National Park, Charles Muthui, told Reuters, adding that some 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of forest had been degraded.
Conservationists feared the birds would be wiped out completely.
"Now is the time to make it right," Macharia said.
Her community knows full well the cost of their deforestation. Along with their lakes and flamingos, the numbers of American and European tourists who came each year dropped. The local economy took a battering.
"The business of this region depends on visitors," the warden said. "Destroy the forests and you destroy Lake Nakuru. Then no flamingos, then no tourism -- we know about that."
Nakuru community groups have already planted some 3,000 trees since January alone, but they say it will take decades to fully reverse the harm already done by cutting the forests.
Still, below the hills where locals toil between thick forest and open plains dotted with tree stumps, planting sapling after sapling, flamingos have begun returning in droves.