Disney film spotlights threat to spectacular flamingo lake
Disney’s decision to highlight the plight of East Africa’s lesser flamingos in its first big-screen nature documentary in nearly half a century could help to save one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles, say conservationists.
The Crimson Wing, set to hit UK cinemas in the autumn, charts the perilous lives of the vast flocks of shimmering pink flamingos that breed on the isolated shores of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania.
Environmentalists believe it will prove a powerful weapon in the fight to prevent a controversial soda ash mine being built at Lake Natron, which they claim will destroy the unique habitat vital to lesser flamingos throughout the region.
They also hope that the film will lead to a dramatic increase in tourists who will boost the economy and persuade the Tanzanian government to abandon the proposed development.
The film is the first to be produced by Disneynature, launched to make wildlife films. The move marks the return of Disney to the genre it first made famous between 1948 and 1960 with the True-Life Adventure series.
It records the fate of the 1.5m flamingos who come to the remote soda lake to breed. British wildlife film-maker Matt Aeberhard, 42, co-director of The Crimson Wing, who spent 14 months filming at the lake, said: “The film was developed to draw attention to Lake Natron. It is the most important flamingo lake in the world and this mine proposal would be disastrous. People will see this fantastic place, this amazing wildlife spectacle. But we have an end card telling the audience that what they have just seen is now threatened.”
BirdLife International hopes the production will lead to a surge in support for its Think Pink campaign against the mine, and are urging filmgoers to write to the Tanzanian environment minister to register their protest. “Our hope is that The Crimson Wing can save Lake Natron,” said Ken Mwathe, of BirdLife Africa.
Disney is also in discussions with the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society to set up a research programme to examine the link between the lesser flamingos and Natron, the largest soda lake in the Rift Valley. Natron is a shallow lake at the foot of the Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) volcano. Its lava is rich in sodium carbonate and the high salt concentration creates an abundance of spirulina bacteria on which the flamingos feed. An estimated 1.5m hatch on its mudflats each year, 75% of the global population of the species.
Indian conglomerate Tata Chemicals put forward plans three years ago for a factory to produce 500,000 tonnes of soda ash a year, used in pharmaceuticals, washing powder and glass making. The developers claim the factory would be well away from the lake, would not disturb the flamingos and would not have a negative impact on tourism.
The plans, currently on hold, would also reportedly provide 150 permanent jobs.