Photographer Nick Brandt visited Tanzania. He unexpectedly found some dead animals washed up on the shores of Lake Natron. To his surprise, the animals appeared like statues; it seemed like the lake turned them into stones. He found mummified, perfectly preserved birds of all manner including bats during his journey. During breeding season, the lake is home to millions of wetland birds like flamingos who feed on abundantly available algae. The lake supports a thriving ecosystem that comprises of only those animals who have adapted to highly salty marshes. The pH level in lake-water is over 10 – enough to burn flesh within a minute. In hot climate the temperature of the lake can go up to 41 degree Celsius.
Brandit collected some of these birds and placed them in ‘living positions’, like they were alive and captured them into photos.
While local media had reported that these animals are killed after coming in contact with the lake, Brandt says,
No one knows for certain exactly how they die, but … the water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds.
Chemical scientists attribute this effect to Lake Natron’s highly alkaline water. The lake does not drain out to any river or sea. Alkalinity of water comes from the sodium carbonate and other minerals that flow into the lake. Also, a nearby volcano (Ol Doinyo) eruption adds to acidic emissions that flow into the lake during rains.
These sodium deposits are similar to those used by Egyptians for mummification. So, it explains why these animals didn’t decompose.
Moreover, there are fewer natural predators in this region, so dead birds weren’t eaten.
According to Thure Cerling, professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, the animals in Brandit’s photos had likely died of natural causes. Some locals also reported to have seen birds crashing into the lake because of confusion created by sky’s reflection in clear water.
According to another researcher, Cerlin, who has studied Africa’s Rift Valley lakes, says,
The animals probably aren’t truly calcified, but are coated with sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate. There is almost no calcium in the lake, although the inflowing fresh waters have calcium, which precipitates as it mixes with the high pH alkaline waters of the lake.
So, these birds probably died a natural death, but the mother nature preserved them in a fashion that they seem still alive. It’s amazing. Isn’t it?
Images: Nick Brandt