Flamingo Rescue 2019 Update

Kamfers Dam’s flamingos – comments from Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa

Kimberley, 6 February 2019 -- The situation unfolding at the Lesser Flamingo breeding colony at Kamfers Dam near Kimberley (South Africa) is now in its 14th day. It has seen an ardent community of passionate and well-meaning animal welfare workers, rehabilitators and caring members of the public galvanise into action, working together to recover, resuscitate and hopefully release back into the wild nearly 2000 flamingo chicks. These endearing little birds were apparently left stranded and dying by their parents as the waters of the dam dried up, leaving their nests exposed to the unbearable heat-wave conditions affecting the dam at the time. 

As the Chief Executive Officer of BirdLife South Africa – a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of South Africa’s birds – I can only commend the individuals and agencies that participated in this operation for the speed with which they reacted and the efficiency of their efforts to save these precious young flamingos. On a more personal note, having been involved in monitoring waterbirds at Kamfers Dam for nearly three decades, including playing a central role in establishing this as one of only four unique sites in Africa (and now in the world) where the Near-threatened Lesser Flamingo regularly breeds, I feel deeply gratified by all the outpourings of concern about these wonderful birds, sincerely expressed by people from all walks of life and all corners of the planet.

However, as time has passed since the initial crisis was declared, I have become increasingly uneasy about perceptions around this incident that seem to be becoming entrenched in the media and the public psyche. As matters develop further around this incident, and decisions are apparently being made about the way forward with which I strongly disagree, I feel that the time has come for me to try to set some fundamental issues straight.

Firstly, the circumstances under which the flamingo chicks currently held in captivity were rescued are not clear. Why did the adult birds desert the apparently abandoned nests? Was the decision to step in and remove the abandoned chicks and eggs the right one? Who made this decision, under what authority and in terms of what expertise? Did the activity of the rescue parties working so closely to the flamingos still actively tending nests have a further, deleterious effect on the colony? While we may never have satisfactory answers to such pertinent questions, it is important to note that, contrary to much of what has appeared in the media to date, these are not cut-and-dried issues.

Secondly, and again contrary to what some would have you believe, the Lesser Flamingo breeding colony at Kamfers Dam is demonstrably NOT in a state of emergency. BirdLife South Africa has had observers at the site for the last week, and we are happy to report that the colony is still healthy, vibrant and productive. There are thousands of free-ranging chicks gambling around excitedly or huddling in crèches set up around the main breeding area, being watched over by a network of attendant adults and regularly fed by their parents. Similarly, the breeding event is still strongly underway. Thousands of adults are stoically incubating their eggs and the next wave of hatchings is surely imminent. We are led to believe that parties and agencies are being gathered – including delegates from zoos in other parts of the world – to convene at the dam and possibly develop and execute a plan to evacuate more chicks from the colony. If this is true, these steps are being taken completely without consultation with the in-country expertise on the colony, without the required permits from the provincial nature conservation authorities, and even without the stated permission of the relevant landowner. Also, such an action is clearly not what is needed to properly care for and protect the flamingos at the colony. What these birds need right now is to be watched carefully, but otherwise left well alone to proceed with their breeding season as smoothly and naturally as possible. While there are still serious concerns about the dam continuing to dry up, there has recently been a significant fall of rain which resulted in the colony once again being surrounded by water, and there is hope for more rain soon as we enter the peak rainy season for the Kimberley area. In addition, a concerted effort is being made behind the scenes to solve the problems contributing to the lack of outflow of water from the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works (which should be sufficient to maintain a relatively stable water level in the dam), and we remain hopeful that this can be achieved soon. For the moment, and until such time as conditions change significantly for the worse, the baby flamingos should be allowed to remain in the care of their mothers and fathers.

Lastly, the Kamfers Dam flamingo colony is NOT the product of unnecessary tampering with nature by the misinformed. It is an unmitigated and resounding conservation victory, achieved in a world where habitat degradation resulting from human activities is rife and escalating, and the greed-driven plundering and persecution of nature is pandemic. The success achieved by the collaborative that conceived of and engineered the interventions at Kamfers Dam is nothing short of miraculous. Tens of thousands of Lesser Flamingos (sometimes in excess of 80 000) now live and breed at this location – a very significant contribution to the long-term survival of the species. The events of the last couple of weeks have been unfortunate and have opened the eyes of the Kamfers Dam collaborative to the need to have clear protocols in place for managing any such incidents in future. They have also catalyzed us into taking decisive and overdue steps to fully secure the future of the site – to ensure the appropriate supply and management of water to the dam, and develop the means to fully protect both the flamingos and their habitat in perpetuity.

(our work at Kamfers Dam has been supported by the Save the Flamingo Association, Ekapa Mining, WESSA, the Northern Cape Department of Environment & Nature Conservation, the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, and the Booth family, and many of BirdLife South Africa's affiliated bird clubs and members)

Mark D. Anderson
Chief Executive Officer
BirdLife South Africa

"On 2 February 2019 a detailed, accurate and useful almost full page article about the flamingo saga in the Saturday Star. Thanks Sheree Bega for covering this story. "

You can find updates on the Lesser Flamingo Breeding event that is currently underway at Kamfers Dam at https://web.facebook.com/groups/18851482307/. Please share widely, as this event has sparked a massive interest in South Africa (and indeed globally) and people are hungry for news/updates.

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