lake baringo

Lake Baringo – A little history and geography

Lake BaringoIn November 1883 Joseph Thompson the famous Scottish explorer became the first European to sight Lake Baringo.

Three different tribes of people live around Lake Baringo: the Njemps who are related to the Masai, the Pokot tribe, and the Tugen who are part of the larger Kalenjin group of tribes.

Lake Baringo is situated in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, north of the Equator, at an altitude of 1,050m (3,500 feet). Lake Baringo is roughly 22km (13.7 miles) long by 11km (6.8 miles) wide at its widest point. It has a surface area of 168sq km (104 sq miles). Baringo lies in a vast bowl flanked by spectacular mountains and rocky escarpments that rise to the east and west, reaching over 1500m (4,920 ft) above the valley floor.

The average temperature in this semi–arid, low-lying land is 35 degrees Centigrade (100 degrees Fahrenheit). The average rainfall is only 640 mm (3.9 inches) with most of the rain falling from May to August, with some in November.

To the east lies the Laikipia escarpment. North of the lake, the Karosi volcano rises 1,449m (4,753 ft) high. To the west are fascinating, basalt cliffs 100m (328 ft) high. These cliffs are ideal for bird watching: You can enjoy the unusual sight of Bat Hawks appearing in the evening to feast on the many bats emerging from the cliffs at dusk. The cliffs are also a favourite nesting place for the majestic Verreaux’s Eagle.
These cliffs are an interesting example of the most recent geographical changes in the rugged face of the rift valley. Beyond lie the Tugen hills with the growing town of Kabarnet at the top, the administrative headquarters for the area. To the south lies the area known as the Njemps flats, stretching towards Lake Bogoria.

Six rivers feed Lake Baringo, although most of them flow seasonally. An outflow must exist to keep the water fresh, preventing the lake becoming more alkaline. It is believed by geologists that the water flows underground for 50 km (31.1 miles) at the northern end of the lake, emerging at Kadepo’s hot waterfalls – having been heated en route by subterranean thermal activity.

There are thirteen permanent islands on Lake Baringo. The largest island is called Ol Kokwe, which means “meeting place” in Njemps. During times of drought several more rocky islands may also appear.

World-renowned palaeontologist, Dr Richard Leakey, has found abundant fossils in the Baringo area. In the 1970’s an excavation near a place called Kipcherere at the foot of the Tugen hills, revealed the fossil remains of an elephant dating back two million years. This fossil is now on display at the Nairobi Museum. There is a fossil site not far from the basalt cliffs, where in the large dunes of sandy shale, fossil bones, hand-axes and flints have been found.

More recently, in the late 1990’s, Dr. Martin Pickford and his team discovered Orrorin Tugenensis – a six million year old hominid skull. This very exciting find is considerably older than previous finds, and is the second oldest hominid skull in the world.