Lake Tanganyika


Lake Tanganyika is the largest and second deepest freshwater lake in the world. It is located in East Africa and is part of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Tanganyika is located between four countries: Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Lake Tanganyika – one of the deepest lakes in the world appeared, as geologists believe, about 7-10 million years ago, when the modern relief of the Earth was actively forming. This process was accompanied by serious tectonic shifts and volcanic eruptions. As a result, a number of depressions were formed in the eastern region of the African continent, which eventually filled with water.

Thus, in the chaos of earthquakes and other natural disasters, Lake Tanganyika, one of the Great African Lakes, was born (besides Tanganyika, they include Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, Kivu, Malawi (Nyasa).

The shores of Tanganyika have been inhabited since ancient times: people were drawn to a reliable source of water and food. Most Africans living on the shores of Tanganyika belong to the Bantu-speaking tribes. The lake was named by the Babembe tribe. In their language, the lake was called “water rich in fish”, or “Yetanga yanya”. Over time, this word combination was transformed into Tanganyika.

Europeans first became aware of the existence of Tanganyika in 1858, and the palm of honor belongs to British explorers Richard Burton (1821-1890) and John Speke (1827-1864), who traveled to East Africa to find the source of the Nile. The expedition was an incredibly arduous ordeal even for the experienced travelers: they suffered from malaria, eye disease, and insect bites, and Speke’s hearing and vision were temporarily impaired. By the end of the journey, Richard Burton was so ill that he was unable to continue, but Speke still managed to reach their original goal: having discovered Tanganyika, he and his team learned from the locals about another lake, Nyanza, later named Victoria, and the source of the Nile is now considered to be the Rukarara River in the Kagera water system, which flows into Victoria.

John Speke was unable to explore Lake Victoria-Nyanza properly: much of the necessary equipment had been lost. It became clear that another expedition was needed. This expedition in 1866 was led by the famous African explorer David Livingstone (1813-1873), whom the Africans called “The Great Lion”. Once again, Lake Tanganyika was on the explorers’ path. Livingstone visited its northern shores for the second time in 1873, again looking for the source of the Nile. But having fallen ill once again with malaria, he died in what is now Zambia. The question of the source of the Nile remained unresolved at that time.

During World War I, the lake became a battleground. In 1914, control over Tanganyika belonged to Germany, and Germany had its naval base here. In December 1915, the first attack was made on the German fleet. As a result of the fighting in 1916, the Allies managed to deprive Germany of control over Tanganyika. The British, fortified on the shore, began advancing toward Kigoma (a city in present-day Tanzania), and the Belgians established a military airbase at Albertville, from which airplanes took off, also bombing German positions near Kigoma.

In 1965, the lake was again used as a military bridgehead: on its western shore, Ernesto Che Guevara’s (1928-1967) guerrilla camp was set up, where he prepared an operation to overthrow the Congolese government. But these plans were not destined to be realized.

Lake Tanganyika

The longest lake on the planet

This lake can be called unique in many ways. Tanganyika is the deepest freshwater body of water in Africa (up to 1470 meters), deeper on the planet – only Baikal. The depth of 200 meters is accessible to living beings. Below, the concentration of hydrogen sulfide gradually increases and the level of oxygen decreases, and at the bottom there is no longer any current, only silt, this layer biologists call “fossil water”. The same multilayer is characteristic of the water temperature: if in the upper layer it can rise to +30 ° C, at the bottom – only +6-8 ° C. This phenomenon is explained by the different density of water. And the uppermost layer of Tanganyika’s water space strikes with its purity and transparency and can be seen up to a depth of 30 meters. Another record of Tanganyika is its length: 673 kilometers along the north-south axis.

Flora and fauna

The great depth of the lake, its relative isolation from other bodies of water and tropical climate have formed here a peculiar biological “reservation”, known mainly for its cichlids. These are fish of the cichlid family of the perch family. They are only about 1300 species, and in Tanganyika – 250 species. Among them there are both large, up to 1 m, and very small – no more than 2.5 cm. The most common species – about 10 cm long, flattened from the sides. Well, the main thing that cichlids-endemics of Lake Tanganyika are known for is their bright coloration and graceful form. And also, according to those who keep these fish in aquariums, Tanganyika cichlids are very intelligent. Scientists agree with this opinion, although they explain this behavior of fish, of course, purely biological, not any other reasons. In addition to cichlids in Tanganyika there are 150 other species of fish. Every year in March, the lake hosts the Zambian National Sport Fishing Championship, which attracts anglers from all over the world.

Tanganyika Cichlid

There are also seven species of crabs, endemic five of the thirteen species of bivalves. In total, about 200 species of mollusks live in the lake. Eleven of the 33 species of crustaceans found in Tanganyika are also unique. There are also many species of jellyfish and leeches. There are herons, various species of ducks and other waterfowl. Crocodiles roam along the shores, hippos hide in secluded corners. All in all, the lake and its shores are home to almost 2000 species of plants and animals, of which about 600 are found nowhere else in the world.

Ports, the largest of which are Kigoma in Tanzania, Kalemie in the Congo and Bujumbura (the capital of Burundi), provide access for ships on the Lukuga and further on the Congo River to the Atlantic Ocean.

National parks have been opened in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Burundi. The most interesting of them are Gombe Stream and Mahali Mountain. But only recently have they begun to fulfill their functions to the full: the African countries of the Tanganyika basin have experienced many military conflicts in the 20th century. The most recent one took place on the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998-2002 and involved about 20 armed groups from nine African states. The main assets of both Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountain are large colonies of chimpanzees and other primates. These natural reserves are home to safari lodges (as hotels in Africa are called in national park areas) and campgrounds.

In recent years, Lake Tanganyika has faced a number of threats, including climate change, water pollution, overpopulation of fisheries and other issues that could affect its ecosystem.

General information

  • Freshwater lake in East Africa.
  • Located in a tectonic depression of the East African crustal fault zone.
  • The longest lake in the world.
  • It is the second deepest freshwater lake in the world.
  • The water level varies throughout the year (it reaches its maximum in April-May).
  • Countries owning the coast and water area: Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi.
  • Major outflowing rivers: Ruzizi, Malagarasi, Kalambo.
  • Outflowing river: Lukuga.
  • Population living along the shores of the lake: about 1 million people. In total, demographers count about 10 million people in the Tanganyika basin.
  • The most important ports: Kalemie (Democratic Republic of Congo), Kigoma (Tanzania), Bujumbura (Burundi).
  • Nearest international airports: Bujumbura (Burundi), Julius Nyerere in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).
  • Area: 32,900 km2.
  • Catchment area: 231,000 km2.
  • Volume: 18,900 km3.
  • Length: 673 km.
  • Width: up to 80 km.
  • Average depth: 570 m.
  • Maximum depth: 1,470 m.
  • Shoreline length: 1,328 km.
  • Runoff: 3.6 km3.
  • Average annual water inflow: 64.8 km3.
  • Elevation relative to the level of the World Ocean: 773 m.
  • The water of the lake is hard, it is caused by the presence of magnesium salts in it, pH level: 8-9.5.


  • Transportation, including ferry transportation.
  • Fishing. It is estimated that about 100,000 people are professionally engaged in fishing.
  • Agriculture: plantations near the lake grow bananas, produce palm oil, tobacco, sorghum and wheat are cultivated in the valleys of mountainous areas.
  • Service sector: tourism.

Climate and weather

  • Subequatorial.
  • Average annual water surface temperature: +23.6-26.5ºС.
  • Average annual precipitation: 1000-1500 mm.

Fun Facts

  • Richard Burton was not devoid of literary gift. Specialists and lovers of geography read his serious, thorough and very entertaining books about travels to Africa. But as a literary man in Britain, he is best known for his translation of the Arabian tales “One Thousand and One Nights”.
  • Japanese ichthyologists are considered the greatest experts on cichlids, including Tanganyika cichlids. One of them, Takeshi Watanabe. gives an example of the amazing interaction between cichlids of different species. When females profundola prepare for spawning, near them always gather young leptosoma. Although profundola – a predator, she not only does not attack the curious young, but even drives away from her other predators, not the most, however, large. As if she knows that leptosomes will warn her first about the approach of a real formidable predator by their fright. For her, after all, the most important thing at this moment – to give life to offspring.
  • 98% of Tanganyika’s cichlid species are endemic to the lake.
  • In the thickets on the banks of the Ruzizi River, a tributary of the Tanganyika, lives the legendary crocodile Gustav. According to unverified data, the length of the amazing beast is seven meters and its age is about a hundred years. He is notorious for his unkindness: he has a lot of human victims on his account. People have repeatedly tried to get rid of the monster, but they never managed to kill Gustav: apparently, the life experience of the crocodile is equal to his cunning. Based on the story of the fearsome ogre of the Ruzizi River in 2007 was filmed horror movie “Primal Evil”.
  • From the wooden bridges, which are installed on the lake especially for fans of sport fishing, you can see every fish at a depth of up to five meters.
  • David Livingstone’s heart is buried in Chitambo, Zambia, and his body is buried in London, in Westminster Abbey. The marble plaque on his tomb is inscribed, “Carried by faithful hands across land and sea, here rests David Livingstone, missionary, traveler and friend of mankind.”
  • Since the early 1980s, fishing in Lake Tanganyika has intensified considerably. Having lost their sense of proportion, the fishermen soon paid for it: over the past three decades, the population of fish flocks in the lake has decreased by about one third. In general, three factors unfavorable for the Tanganyika ecosystem have converged in recent years: human (anthropogenic), temperature (gradual increase in temperature of both water and air) and lowering water levels.
  • The German steamship “Graf von Goetzen”, built in 1913, was sent to German East Africa, the name of the German colony in 1885-1919, which included part of the lands of modern Tanzania (then Tanganyika), Rwanda and Burundi. During World War I, the ship was used as a warship. Until in 1916, the Germans sank it themselves: so that the British would not get it. In 1927 the Tanzanians raised the “Graf” from the bottom to the surface, repaired and renamed it MV Liemba. Under this name it properly transported up to 200 tons of cargo and up to 600 passengers on board. Now the ship is undergoing a new reconstruction, which is again led by the Germans After that it will become a museum.
  • On the Kalambo River flowing into Tanganyika, which borders Tanzania and Zambia, is a waterfall considered the second highest in Africa after the Tugela Falls. The total height difference at Kalambo Falls is about 900 meters. But it is a gentle drop, for 10 km, a sheer stream plunges down from a height of 215 meters.
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