Lake Manyara

Coordinates: 3°35′S 35°50′E / 3.583°S 35.833°E / -3.583; 35.833
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Lake Manyara
Large lake into horizon center and left, forested cliffs to right, forest in foreground.
Overlook of Lake Manyara National Park.
Located in Northern Tanzania.
Located in Northern Tanzania.
Lake Manyara
LocationMonduli District, Arusha Region, Tanzania
Coordinates3°35′S 35°50′E / 3.583°S 35.833°E / -3.583; 35.833
Lake typeSaline, alkaline, endorheic
Primary inflowsSimba River (from the north), Makayuni River (from the east)
Max. length40 km (25 mi) max
Max. width15 km (9.3 mi) max
Surface area181.5 sq mi (470 km2)[1]
Max. depth3.7 m (12 ft)
Surface elevation1,045 m (3,428 ft)
Lake Manyara, the shores and cliff after dusk.
Lake Manyara, the cliff after the sunset.

Lake Manyara is a lake located in Monduli District of Arusha Region, Tanzania and is the seventh-largest lake of Tanzania by surface area, at 470-square-kilometre (180 sq mi).[1] It is a shallow, alkaline lake in the Natron-Manyara-Balangida branch of the East African Rift.[2] The northwest quadrant of the lake (about 200 sq, km.) [3] is included within Lake Manyara National Park and it is part of the Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve, established in 1981 by UNESCO as part of its Man and the Biosphere Programme.[4]

There are differing explanations for how Lake Manyara got its name. The name Manyara may come from the Maasai word "emanyara", which is the spiky, protective enclosure around a family homestead (boma). Possibly the 600 m high rift escarpment hems in the lake, like the enclosure around a Maasai boma.[5] Another theory is that the Mbugwe tribe, who live in the Lake Manyara area, may have given the lake its name based on the Mbugwe word manyero, meaning a trough or place where animals drink water.[6]

Hydrology and basin[edit]

Lake Manyara has a catchment area of about 18,372 km2 with elevations between 938 m and 3633 m above sea level. The lake is in a closed basin with no outflow, wherein water is only lost by evaporation. It is fed by underground springs, but the vast majority of the inflow comes from rainwater fed permanent and ephemeral rivers that drain the surrounding catchment.[7] The lake's depth and the area it covers fluctuates significantly.[7] At its maximum, during the wet season, the lake is 40 km wide by 15 km with a maximum depth of 3.7 m.[1] In 2010, a bathymetry survey showed the lake to have an average depth 0.81 m, and a maximum depth of about 1.18 m.[7] In extreme dry periods the surface area of the lake shrinks as the waters evaporate and at times the lake has dried up completely.[7] Lake Manyara is a soda or alkaline lake with a pH near 9.5,[8] and it is also high in dissolved salts. The water becomes increasingly brackish in the dry season as water evaporates and salts accumulate.[9] During dry spells, large areas of mud flats become exposed along the shore.[8] These alkaline flats sprout into grasslands, attracting grazing animals, including large herds of buffalo, wildebeest and zebra.[3] The Western side of the lake is flanked by a steep rift escarpment, to the North are the Ngorongoro highlands, while in the East and Southeast an undulating plain with isolated volcanic mountains gives way to a peneplain. Several springs, streams, wetlands and smaller lakes, both perennial and seasonal, drain into the lake. The shores of the saline lake host at its Northern tip the town of Mto wa Mbu with its irrigation agriculture. On its Western side there is a groundwater forest extending between the lake shore and the rift escarpment and covered mostly by the National Park until the Marang' forest. In the rift valley South of the lake vast river floodplains are used for irrigation agriculture. The wetter and productive uplands all over the catchment are mostly used for rain-fed agriculture by various ethnicities depending on historical migration and resettlement patterns. The drier and more unpredictable savannas are used for livestock grazing by pastoralists (mainly Maasai). Southeast of LM another large and famous national park (Tarangire) is located. Furthermore, all over the catchment there are numerous game reserves, conservation areas, forest reserves, wildlife management areas and numerous villages and touristic infrastructures (roads, lodges and tented camps).

Threats and protection[edit]

Lake Manyara is partly protected within the Lake Manyara National Park and is one of the seven Tanzanian, UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserves. The wider Lake Manyara basin social-ecological system suffers from multiple environmental problems due to unsustainable land and water use.[10] Lake Manyara has experienced an overall upward trajectory in sedimentation rates over the last 120 years with distinct peaks in the 1960s and in 2010.[11] The increased sedimentation rates are largely a result of a complex interaction between increased upstream soil erosion following land cover changes [12] and natural rainfall fluctuations.

Map of the Manyara hydrological basin (solid black line) (adapted from Bachofer et al. 2014[13])


The main fish species inhabiting the lake are catfish and tilapia.[9] There is a small fishery, but fish only tend to be found near the inflow areas, where salt concentrations are lower.[1] Lake Manyara is the type locality for the endangered fish Oreochromis amphimelas, a species of in the cichlid family, endemic to Tanzania, found in Lake Manyara and a number of other saline lakes with closed basins. Exploitation is prohibited in the parts of Lake Manyara within the National Park and the protected park areas provide important seed stock for the replenishment of fished populations.[14]


Lake Manyara National Park is known for flocks of thousands flamingos that feed along the edge of the lake in the wet season. At times, there have been over an estimated 2 million individuals of various species of water birds. The following table summarizes the most numerous species, according to the Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Manyara.[15]

Species Current IUCN Red List Category Season Year(s) of estimate Population estimate
Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) LC winter 1995 4,650 individuals
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) ELC non-breeding - 40,000 individuals
Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) NT non-breeding 1991 1,900,000 individuals
Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis) LC non-breeding 1995 1,020 individuals
Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) LC non-breeding 1991 200,000 individuals
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) NR non-breeding 1995 8,367 individuals
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) LC non-breeding 1995 4,940 individuals
Chestnut-banded Plover (Charadrius pallidus) NT non-breeding 1995 619 individuals
Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) LC winter 1995 3,302 individuals
Ruff (Calidris pugnax) LC winter 1995 45,486 individuals
Little Stint (Calidris minuta) LC winter 1995 78,675 individuals
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) LC winter 1995 2,441 individuals
Common Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica) NR winter 1995 1,566 individuals
White-winged Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) LC winter 1995 3,283 individuals
Species group - waterbirds n/a non-breeding 1991-1995 1,000,000-2,499,999 individuals

Visiting Lake Manyara[edit]

Lake Manyara can be accessed through Lake Manyara National Park. With an entrance gate that doubles as an exit, the trail into the park is effectively a loop that can be traversed by jeep within a few hours. The trails goes through forests shrublands and marsh, before reaching the shore of the lake. The Rift Valley escarpment provides a spectacular backdrop.

From the nearby town of Mto wa Mbu, through the Cultural Tourism Programme, it is possible to organize a canoe trip on the lake, or a fishing trip to learn traditional fishing methods. Bicycle trips to the east shore of the lake can also be arranged.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d "Source book for the inland fisheries of Africa vol. 1". FAO.
  2. ^ Foster, A. and C. Ebinger and E. Mbede and D. Rex (August 1997). "Tectonic development of the northern Tanzanian sector of the East African Rift System". Journal of the Geological Society. 154 (4): 689–700. doi:10.1144/gsjgs.154.4.0689. S2CID 128697181.
  3. ^ a b "Lake Manyara National Park — - Tanzania Tourism". Archived from the original on 2022-01-27. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  4. ^ "Lake Manyara". UNESCO. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  5. ^ "Tanzania, Lake Manyara National Park".
  6. ^ "Maana ya Manyara".
  7. ^ a b c d Deus, Dorothea; Richard Gloaguen and Peter Krause (2013). "Water Balance Modeling in a Semi-Arid Environment with Limited in situ Data Using Remote Sensing in Lake Manyara, East African Rift, Tanzania". Remote Sensing. 5 (4): 1651–1680. Bibcode:2013RemS....5.1651D. doi:10.3390/rs5041651.
  8. ^ a b Hughes, R. H.; Hughes, J. S. (1992). A directory of African wetlands. UNEP. p. 255.
  9. ^ a b "Lake Manyara, Manyara, Tanzania Vacation Info - LakeLubbers".
  10. ^ Janssens de Bisthoven, Luc (2020-08-01). "Social-ecological assessment of Lake Manyara basin, Tanzania: A mixed method approach" (PDF). Journal of Environmental Management. 267: 110594. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110594. PMID 32349949. S2CID 217592412.
  11. ^ Wynants, Maarten (2020-05-15). "Determining tributary sources of increased sedimentation in East-African Rift Lakes". Science of the Total Environment. 717: 137266. Bibcode:2020ScTEn.717m7266W. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137266. PMID 32084693. S2CID 211246435.
  12. ^ Wynants, Maarten (2018-09-01). "Pinpointing areas of increased soil erosion risk following land cover change in the Lake Manyara catchment, Tanzania". International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 71: 1–8. Bibcode:2018IJAEO..71....1W. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2018.05.008. hdl:10566/3835. S2CID 51873764.
  13. ^ Bachofer, Felix; Quénéhervé, Geraldine; Märker, Michael (2014). "The Delineation of Paleo-Shorelines in the Lake Manyara Basin Using TerraSAR-X Data". Remote Sensing. 6 (3): 2195–2212. doi:10.3390/rs6032195. hdl:2158/911957. ISSN 2072-4292.
  14. ^ Bayona, J.D.R. 2006. Oreochromis amphimelas. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2006: e.T60629A12388607. Downloaded on 24 April 2019.
  15. ^ BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Lake Manyara. Downloaded from on 24/04/2019
  16. ^ "Catalog". Archived from the original on 2018-01-31.

External links[edit]