The Near Threatened Lesser Flamingo inhabits the harsh environments of shallow, eutrophic, open and saline water bodies such as salt pans and coastal estuaries or lagoons. It occurs across sub-Saharan Africa and in India. In Africa it only breeds at four localities with any regularity – Lake Natron (Tanzania), Etosha Pan (Namibia), Sua Pan (Botswana) and Kamfers Dam in Kimberley.
This species’ specialised foraging and breeding habitat is particularly threatened by activities that alter hydrology and water quality. Specific threats include disturbance through salt extraction, water extraction, collisions with fences and power infrastructure, pollution of wetlands and water bodies and disturbance of breeding sites. Threats at Kamfers Dam include feral dogs, human disturbance during the breeding season, and fluctuating water quality and quantity. Droughts are becoming more intense with climate change causing higher evaporation rates of water from the dam and prolonged heat waves.
Lesser Flamingo Conservation Interventions
The 2006 intervention at Kamfers Dam was a very important win for the conservation of this species. That year, an artificial breeding island was built to encourage undisturbed breeding at Kamfers Dam by Mark Anderson (then the Northern Cape provincial ornithologist), Jahn and Peter Hohne (owners of Kimberley Ekapa Mining) and property owners Herbert and Brenda Booth. Successful breeding ensued which produced an estimated 24 000 chicks during the 2007 to 2011 breeding seasons. Towards the end of the summer of 2010 the island started to flood and later eroded under the water for several years, to be exposed once again in 2014 as the water level dropped due to the diversion of excess waste water from the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works to another pan. Their artificial breeding island remains in disrepair with no clay or mud topping for nest construction and is covered in weeds.
Recent Breeding Events
During September 2017, probably frantically driven by an urgency to breed and suitable conditions including abundant food, the flamingos built their turret nests en masse on the south-western fringe and successfully raised an estimated 8 000 chicks. On January 14th 2019 Tania Anderson counted >8 000 adults incubating on nest turrets and >1 000 already mobile chicks in ‘créches’ in a breeding colony at the same site. A few days later the combination of prolonged drought and an almost non-existent effluent flow into the dam from the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works lowered the water level of the dam to a point below some of the occupied nests. This exposed the birds to a heightened threat of predation and subjected them to very high temperatures. Many chicks and eggs were abandoned and a rescue operation driven by Saam Staan Kimberley and the Kimberley SPCA ensued, during which approximately 2000 flamingo chicks were recovered and distributed to various rehabilitation facilities around the country.
BirdLife South Africa became actively involved in this crisis situation to closely monitor both the birds and the conditions on the dam in order to minimize further set-backs to the still ongoing breeding event. The monitors included Andrew Jenkins (Avisense Consulting), Tania Anderson, Robin Colyn and Eric Herrmann and monitoring was undertaken for nine weeks.
The time spent on site by these observers was mainly taken up with passive observation of the colony looking for behavioural or numerical signs of another abandonment and trying to keep human and other sources of disturbance to a minimum until breeding ended on 17 February. Other activities included overseeing drone-based aerial surveys of the colony and the dam, tracking water levels and maintaining constant communication and coordination between the various local and off-site stakeholders. Robin Colyn built models to count the birds depicted in sample drone images and produced satellite-derived images of water levels and algal densities in the dam. The latter systems in particular enabled the detection of signs of any significant disturbance or disruption in the colony and swift and pre-emptive reactions.
Worsening conditions which included rapid evaporation in hot, windy weather and depleted algae concentrations prompted an urgent meeting on 27 February to plan for the distinct possibility that the adult flamingos might be forced to vacate the area, leaving their flightless young behind. Thankfully and partly because of the commitment and hard work of the Hohnes working with the Sol Plaatje Municipality to repair water and sewage pipelines servicing Homevale to increase the flow of sewage into the dam, and partly because of a massive downpour of >100 mm of rain that fell on 11 March, a disaster was averted.
During May and June 2019, 577 surviving, healthy rescued juveniles, microchipped, ringed with yellow bands and Safrings and 18 fitted with satellite trackers, were released back into Kamfers Dam to join their flock.
- Through collaborative partnerships, monitor the breeding events at Kamfers Dam from a distance using modelling and on the ground.
- Advocacy to ensure a sustainable water level and water quality suitable to support a high concentration of blue-green algae for a large flock of Lesser Flamingos.
- Support the re-establishment of a safer breeding site on the dam fringe or the breeding island.
- Support the development of a bird hide and viewing platform to grow the ecotourism in the Kimberley area.
- Kamfers Dam is unprotected and unfenced along its southern shores and fencing needs to be secured to keep out predators and prevent human disturbance and poaching.
- Advocacy to prevent collisions of flamingos with the electric overhead lines of the two railway lines next to Kamfers Dam.
- Ensure that any housing developments proposed nearby do not have an adverse impact on the flamingos and Kamfers Dam IBA.
This wetland is one of the world’s most important bird conservation sites, as it is only one of six places globally where Lesser Flamingos breed. They have bred on an artificial island during 2007/2008 (c. 9000 chicks) and 2008/2009 (c. 12,000 chicks), the very first time in recorded history that the species has bred in South Africa.
Mark Anderson, BirdLife South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer, is actively involved in the conservation of Kamfers Dam’s Lesser Flamingos:
- he has been monitoring this flamingo population for more than 15 years,
- he conceived the idea of the flamingo island and managed the project,
- he is Vice-Chairperson of the Save the Flamingo Association committee and
- he serves on the Flamingo Environmental Trust.
Links to other sources of information