while traveling northern tanzania for a pictorial journey of east africa, british photographer nick brandt unexpectedly came upon a number dead birds and bats that appeared to be made out of stone. the animals had washed up along the shoreline of the lethal lake natron, a salt lake located near the kenyan border. the waterway contains a deadly chemical composition — a very high soda and salt content — which causes any creature who dares to dip in to die, calcify, and remain perfectly preserved as they dry.
The last sentence is way over the top. Here is a more balanced account by GeekoSystem:
Unfortunately, the nuances of this lake’s ecosystem seem to escape many a casual observer, and what people appear to be taking away from most coverage is this: that there’s a lake in Africa that kills literally every creature that comes near it (which is false), and that it’s capable of killing those creatures instantly by turning them to actual stone (which is also false).
First of all, the preservation process is not something that happens instantaneously — it happens over a much longer period of time. Though the photos taken by Nick Brandt depict the petrified birds on perches and in naturalistic poses as if they were just petrified, they are all entirely staged. Brandt said as much in an e-mail to NBC news: ”I unexpectedly found the creatures — all manner of birds and bats — washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania[…] I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life.’”
Secondly, the birds are not “stone,” per se. The chemical process to which they were subjected is much closer to Egyptian mummifcation than anything else, and although the bodies appear chalky and stone-like in appearance, but they are not completely immovable. After all, if that were the case then Brandt would not have been able to reposition his birds into such surreal and breathtaking poses.
Furthermore, there are species that are perfectly capable of living near lake Natron without facing inevitable doom — specifically, there are extremophile fish, bacterium, and a specific type of algae that thrives in the alkaline-rich waters. The lake is also one of the largest breeding ground for North Africa’s lesser flamingos (not to be confused with the greater flamingo, which has a different bill and is just a bit larger– you know, “greater”), who come to the lake to feed on the aforementioned algae. Yes, the occasional flamingo dies and is preserved, but as you can see from the featured image above, there are plenty more that come out just fine.