The 660-kilometer-long and 4,710-foot-deep Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world, and the second deepest one after only Lake Baikal in Russia. 18% of the world’s freshwater resources are held within the Lake Tanganyika. The lake occupies territory belonging to the four African countries of Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and forms the border between Tanzania and the DRC. The lake encompasses a total area of 32,900 square kilometers, and its water flows into the Congo River system, which finally enters the Atlantic Ocean. Malagarasi, Ruzizi, and the Kalambo are the largest rivers draining into Lake Tanganyika.
Lake Tanganyika was formed about 12 million years ago during the formation of the Great Rift Valley. As per folklore, the Ha tribesmen of Africa were probably the first Bantu Africans to inhabit the lake's surrounding region, first doing so nearly 2,000 years ago. The lake was also used as a slave route by the Arab traders to transport slaves across the lake to Ujiji. From Ujiji, the slaves were walked for 1,200 kilometers to the Indian Ocean to be shipped away. Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were the first European explorers to arrive at Lake Tanganyika in 1858. The lake was also a site of two important battles in history. During World War I, Germans, who had complete control over the lake, used it as a base to launch attacks on the Allied troops. The Allied forces also fought back by using their naval forces to destroy German boats and ships on the lake. In 1965, Lake Tanganyika was also used by Che Guevara, a revolutionary from Argentina, to train his guerrilla forces.
Fisheries form the biggest source of income to support the livelihoods of the people based along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, with more than 100,000 Africans being directly engaged in fishing in the lake's waters. More than 1 million people living here depend on the fish landed from the lake as a source of 25–40% of their dietary protein. The fish from this lake are also exported to most other neighboring countries of East Africa. Large scale commercial fishing in the lake waters commenced in the 1950s and, in 1995, the total fish caught was estimated to be around 196,570 tons annually. Trade between the riparian countries bordering the lake is also facilitated by transport of goods across the lake between these countries. The forests supported by the lake are an important source of firewood, charcoal, and other forest products for these developing nations as well. Ecologically, the lake is one of most precious freshwater ecosystems of the world, and a significant biological resource to study the evolution of species.
Habitat and Biodiversity
More than 2,000 plant and animal species, including 600 endemic ones, inhabit Lake Tanganyika. 250 species of cichlid fish and 75 non-cichlid fish are found in the waters of the lake. The Tanganyika sardine and the predatory Lates dominate the pelagic zone of the lake. 98% of the cichlid fish species and 59% of the non-cichlid fish species of the lake are endemic in nature. Besides fish, the invertebrate species of the lake also exhibit a high level of endemism. Out of 68 freshwater snail species, 45 are endemic and more than half of the 200 species of crustaceans found here are also endemic. Some notable mammalian species occupying the forest habitat along the Lake Tanganyika include chimpanzees and hippopotamus. Crocodiles are also found in the waters of the lake. Two protected lands, namely the Gombe Stream National Park and the Mahale Mountains National Park, are located on the eastern shore of the lake, and are famous for their populations of chimpanzees.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Currently, the aquatic species of Lake Tanganyika are under extreme threat from exploitative human activities. Indeed, large scale commercial fishing has greatly depleted the natural resources of the lake. Massive deforestation of the land around the lake, and the use of poor, often outdated, agricultural practices in the farms based along the shores of the lake, have laden the waters of Tanganyika with large quantities of sediments, and these are hampering the growth of aquatic vegetation, thus disturbing the food chain of the lake's ecosystems. Climate change poses further risk to the lake, as rising temperatures prevent the proper mixing of the lake waters, a process which is essential for the distribution of nutrients to the various species inhabiting the depths of the lake. This could have devastating effects on the fish species of the lake, as well as the human populations on its shores and beyond.