The Cursed Red Lake: How Tanzania’s Mysterious Body of Water Turns Creatures into Stone

Lake Natron is one of the deadliest lakes in the world that scares most animals away.

Lake Natron is a key breeding ground for flamingos, but the animals are at risk of being permanently frozen in the lake’s salt layer if they approach the shore. The bacteria that make the lake water red are among the few creatures that can withstand the average temperature of 26 degrees Celsius, the fatally high salt concentration and the alkalinity of Lake Natron..

Objects that fall into the water will decompose rapidly while those at the edge of the lake become wrapped in salt and “petrified”, according to ecologist David Harper of the University of Leicester. The lake’s harsh conditions are related to the nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano. It is the only active volcano that spews natrocarbonatite lava. This type of lava flows into the lake through a network of streams flowing through the volcano, contributing to alkaline levels above the pH 10 threshold.

Only flamingos, which feed on nutrient-rich cyanobacteria in the water, flock to this area to mate. However, even they cannot escape the harsh conditions of the lake, falling victim to being encased in salt cement.

“I found many creatures like birds and bats washed up along the shores of Lake Natron. No one knows exactly how they died, but the composition of soda and salt in the lake was so high, it stripped the ink from the container. My Kodak movie in seconds,” photographer Nick Brandt shares in his book about the lake.

In addition to animal carcasses, Lake Natron has a history of 19,000 years. Immediately after the footprints were imprinted on the wet mud and ash, the sediment dried and hardened, said Dr Cynthia Luitkius-Pierce, a geologist at the Appalachian University. The layer of mud that preserves the footprint is believed to have drifted down from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano along with a large amount of ash. The surface dries over several days, even hours, preserving the footprint. The mud holds traces of human ancestors, their activities and behavior during the Pleistocene along the shores of Lake Natron.

Scroll to Top