30 Jun 2005
The Lake That Changes Its Colour
Lake Oshen (sometimes called Enep) sits like a bowl on top of scenic hills along the Bamenda-Wum road in the North west province of Cameroon. It is a crater lake in the same category like lake Nyos that was responsible for the deaths of 1700 people two decades ago. The North West province is home probably to the highest number of crater lakes in Cameroon. The fertile volcanic soil around these lakes acts like a magnate to pull many a farmer to settle permanently close to them. That is the more reason that the suspicious appearance of any lake is a source of concern. The appearance of lake Oshen during my first visit in July 2004 was unusual. Its colour then was reminiscent of the appearance of lake Nyos after the gas explosion that took away the lives of humans and animals alike. (See bowl shaped photo of lake Oshen crater at this link)
I had to write to the governor of the North West province about my observations and apprehensions. I also enlisted the help of The National Geographic magazine and they assisted me to locate a specialist in Yaounde in the person of Dr. Tanyileke Greg. When I presented the case to Dr. Tanyileke he said that “It is not unusual that some lakes overturn and present such an appearance.” adding “ such a phenomenon usually occurs in the dry season”. Noting that he finds it “intriguing” that this should be happening in July (in the heart of the rainy season), he promised to stop and check the lake on his next visit to the area. Meanwhile, I was informed by the secretary to the North West governor that my report had been forwarded to hierarchy in Yaounde.
Nov 2011 updated photo of different faces of lake Oshen
I was later to receive a phone call from Wum (about 25 kms from Oshen) by people claiming to come from Yaounde to investigate the lake. I informed them that my presence was not needed as I was not an expert on crater lakes. I inquired whether they were with Dr. Tanyileke and they said no. When I contacted Tanyileke by phone to inquire whether he was aware of the people sent from Younde? He said no but later informed me that he was sure they were people of the civil protection from the ministry of territorial administration. My curiosity was not addressed properly because the issue raised needed the attention of competent technicians.
Convinced that the effort I have put on this problem did not yield fruit due to the way it was handled, I decided to make another trip to lake Oshen this June 2005. We arrived Oshen (60 kms from Bamenda) at 10 a.m on the 22nd of June 2005. I enlisted the help of Ngong Genesis (my guide of last year) and three of his friends to lead us to the lake. Suffice it to mention that access to the lake is reserved only for the physically fit. From preliminary findings, one of the youths confirmed that the lake still has an unusual colour. Said Obadia Echu, “The lake usually changes its colour during the rainy season and tends to return to normal in the dry season” His assertion was later to be contradicted by chief Mungong Philip (the village head) “The lake changes during certain periods in the rainy season and also in the dry season” adding “If you come here in January (heart of dry season) you will see what I am saying”. We embarked on the steep climb to the top of the hill at 10.15 a.m on that bright Wednesday morning and arrived at the banks of the lake 40 minutes later. (See comparative pictures of lake Oshen and nearby lake Ilum at the following link 2nd row) http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/page/page/2075996.htm
This time around, the lake had a deep clay colour compared to the brownish-yellow tinge of last year. Could the small seasonal (clean) springs flowing into the lake be responsible for stirring it? If yes what causes the change in the dry season? When did this phenomenon start? According to chief Mungong Philip (a retired civil servant) “We never saw the lake changing its colour when we were growing up” “ Crabs were
abundant in the lake and there were seasons when villagers could harvest many buckets of the crabs” “There were also some small flat fish species in the lake but now both the crabs and fish are no more. All we have in the lake now are tadpoles.” According to him, “the peculiar changes in the lake started around the same time that we noticed the disappearance of crabs and fish.” Adding “the banks of the lake have become deeper.”
It is necessary to add that although crabs and fishes are absent from the lake, many land animals live around it. I did not see any myself but my young companions told me that they always visit the banks of the lake to “set traps for animals and saw timber”. “Why can you people not leave the wild animals and trees alone in this last sanctuary so that your own children can later grow up and see them?” I asked. “Poverty is the cause” answered one of them .
Chief Mugong was delighted to hear that the authorities have been notified about the strange behaviour of their lake saying “I was the ambulance driver of the divisional hospital Wum (where most victims were hospitalized) during the lake Nyos disaster and I know that sometimes the colour of our lake resembles that of lake Nyos after the disaster.” “I hope that competent technicians would be sent to come and study this lake so that it should not surprise us like lake Nyos” said chief Mungong.
When contacted by phone about my findings, Dr. Tanyileke said that lake Oshen is a shallow lake and as such is not usually seen to pose any danger. He however admitted that “the last baseline data for the lake were obtained in 1987”. And said they were waiting for funding to make a study of all the lakes in the area.
On a positive note, the view of the surrounding landscape from the banks of the lake is extremely beautiful. The river Mezam/Menchum could be seen snaking through the plains stretching from Bafut to Befang. The greenery of the hills across and the dotted human settlements on the valley conveys an image of tranquility immersed in irresistible natural splendor. (See photo at http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/albums/album_image/2075996/604358.htm).
Copyright ã 2005 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]