The Canopy Project

Wildlife in Ancient Lake Face Modern Problems

Spanning four countries and reaching depths of 4,800 feet, Lake Tanganyika in east Africa is one of the oldest and largest freshwater ecosystems in the world. Formed between 9-12 million years ago, the lake has long been home to aquatic species found nowhere else in the world, along with the  beautiful olive baboon. However, since the mid-1900’s, the area has seen rapid human growth, which has posed potential threats the ancient ecosystem has never faced before.

The fish in Lake Tanganyika are called cichlids, a type of fish that thrives in freshwater. There are more than 200 species of them in the lake, 99% of which are endemic, meaning Lake Tanganyika is the only place in the world where they can be found. The fish are usually no longer than a foot and have a notably complex mating process involving dancing and building mounds. Coming in all colors of the rainbow and remarkable patterns, they make very popular fish for aquariums worldwide.

These fish are in danger of going extinct due to increasingly polluted water. Much of the pollution comes from agricultural pesticides getting into the soil and groundwater. These pesticides are being used more because they increase the crop production needed to feed the growing population.

Forests near Lake Tanganyika are being cleared for farming at rapid rates to support the rapidly growing population. Tanzania, where most of the eastern coast of the lake is, has grown by 17 million people in the decade leading up to 2021. As development on the lake continues, this problem will grow.  

Unlike cichlids, the olive baboon population around Lake Tanganyika is stable, for now. Listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, these baboons are crucial to the ecosystem because they naturally aerate the soil while foraging for food, making it healthier and more productive. After the baboons dig, the healthier soil won’t need as many chemicals to be productive, and therefore reduces the amount of pesticides that end up in the lake.

EARTHDAY.ORG and its partners in The Canopy Project have not only planted trees in Tanzania, but also educated the local community on more sustainable land use. By planting trees and talking about agricultural practices we can protect both baboons and fish because every ecosystem is connected. You can support efforts and protect the Lake Tanganyika ecosystem by donating to The Canopy Project.