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Lesser by the minute – Africa’s lesser flamingos fast-flying to extinction

Flock of Lesser Flamingo

Photo by: flickr – Rainbirder

When comparing wild Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) – with an estimated population of 2 million – to other large bird species, you may assume that their status is fairly secure. However rapid declines caused a swing from a Lower Risk category to Near Threatened on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species in only 4 years.

According to the IUCN Red List, between the year 2000 and 2004, Lesser Flamingos declined from a Lower Risk/near threatened species to Near Threatened. Now anthropogenic factors are pushing to uplist these birds into a higher threat category within the next few years.

Conservationists are concerned that the only four natural breeding sites for Lesser Flamingos in Africa, coupled with infrequent and prolonged breeding, will just not be adequate enough to sustain the survival of the species over the next two decades.

In Africa, the only remaining natural breeding spots for Lesser Flamingo are at Sua Pan in Botswana, Etosha Pan in central Namibia, Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, and Kamfers Dam outside the city of Kimberley in South Africa. The only other breeding colonies of Lesser Flamingo in the world are found at Zinzuwadia and Purabcheria salt pans in north-western India.

Theories to why there are only a few concentrated breeding sites suggest it is because the Lesser Flamingo is not a migratory bird species. Flamingos are incredibly social birds forming colonies of thousands. They will remain in caustic wetlands with high concentrations of aquatic food resources where they can raise their chicks. Another factor is that human and natural interferences are driving birds away from former permanent nesting sites.

Lake Natron, the mineral-rich salt lake along Africa’s Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania is definitely the most crucial breeding spot, where nearly 3 quarters of the world’s Lesser Flamingos nest. Despite world-wide condemnation, a Tanzanian Government Agency is still proposing to establish hydro-electric power schemes and soda ash mining at Lake Natron.

According to KDCL Minerals (T) Ltd, the $US 125 million mining project will produce 200,000 tonnes of soda ash per annum. These developments and accompanying infrastructure will likely drive the birds away permanently from nesting at Lake Natron in Tanzania. The decimation of this vital bionetwork will eventually lead to the definitive demise of the Lesser Flamingo species in East Africa.

The State of South Africa’s Lesser Flamingos

Lesser Flamingo at Kamfers Dam.

Photo by: Ria Janse van Vuuren – A Lesser Flamingo at Kamfers Dam balances on one leg while sleeping.

A recent visit to Kamfers Dam, South Africa’s only natural breeding biome for Lesser Flamingos, revealed similar deplorable transgressions and economic exploitation to what is happening at Lake Natron. Kamfers Dam is located 5 minutes north of Kimberley on the N12 Road to Johannesburg. It is one of very few perennial wetlands in the arid Northern Cape Province.

The dam supports more than 180 wildlife and bird species. Flocks of Lesser Flamingo ranging between 20,000 and 50,000 are recorded here monthly. This constitutes a significant portion of the southern African population, estimated to number 150 000 birds. The colonies are so dense that when you look down from 30,000 feet up in the air on commercial flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town you will see clusters of pink scattered across the dam.

Today however, with the constant inflow of treated sewage from the rundown Homevale Waste Water Treatment Plant and Kimberley’s storm water runoff through the Sol Plaatje Municipality’s reticulation system, this 400 hectare pan has become permanently flooded. Water analyses have shown that raw sewage has been flowing into the dam over a number of years. The critical artificial breeding island, built at a cost of half a million Rand in 2006 has been partially submerged, drowning hundreds of chicks. Water is now seeping out beneath the railway line circumfering the dam.

Another major threat to Kamfers Dam’s Lesser Flamingos is the Northgate housing development project on the open property adjacent to Kamfers Dam. It is surprising that the Northern Cape Government approved this development despite the peril against South Africa’s only Lesser Flamingo population. Save the Flamingo Association, BirdLife South Africa, WESSA, and the land owner of Kamfers Dam, Northern Cape Ranchers, appealed the Provincial Government’s decision to allow this development – and was successful. Applications have reportedly been launched in the Northern Cape High Court for the Review and Setting Aside of the project.

It is feared that by building this large-scale urban settlement next to Kamfers Dam, together with the incessant runoff of the city’s sewage and storm water, Kimberley will lose a Natural Heritage site of great ecological significance and South Africa its total breeding population of Lesser Flamingos.

Flooding at Kamfers Dam, Kimberley, South Africa

Photo by: Marike Janse van Vuuren – Water seeping through underneath the railway line at Kamfers Dam, South Africa.

Help Save South Africa’s Lesser Flamingos

The Save The Flamingo campaign is run by concerned individuals, companies and organizations affiliated with the non-profit Save The Flamingo Association fighting for the welfare of Kamfers Dam’s Lesser Flamingos. Kamfers Dam is South Africa’s only natural breeding site for Lesser Flamingos, and one of only four sites in the whole of Africa. Without urgent action the dam will become a hazardous cesspool threatening the lives and health of the dam’s wildlife.

Sign the Save The Flamingo Petition and urge authorities to start taking serious action.

You can also Make a Donation towards the Save The Flamingo Fund

For more information on the Save The Flamingo Campaign, visit www.savetheflamingo.co.za.

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