Railway lines killing flamingos

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In January, thousands of lesser flamingo chicks were rescued from Kamfers Dam in Kimberley amid fears of abandonment when a lack of rainfall and heat left the pan with little water. From April, these chicks were returned by various caring facilities, and after a quarantine period, released back into the wild. They integrated well with the 5 000 wild, healthy juveniles and flock. However, now that the juveniles are starting to fly, new problems have come to light.

Photo: Ester van der Westhuizen-Coetzer

The overhead lines of the railway lines adjacent to Kamfers Dam are a safety hazard for birds. In fact, 30 juvenile lesser flamingos and a few adults have already died this season after colliding with these lines.

Old diverters ineffective

According to BirdLife South Africa volunteer Tania Anderson; it is Transnet’s responsibility to ensure the lines are safe.  Bird diverters were initially installed in 2012, but they have since moved and have broken. “Even when first fitted, they were probably only partly effective and not visible or effective at night,” says Anderson. She also explains that Transnet’s environmental section was meant to check and monitor them for effectiveness and collisions.

Most of the old diverters are long gone. Photo: Tania Anderson

Monitoring for collisions

Transnet however, did not follow through on this verbal agreement. “We have not monitored but this will be rectified,” says Mike Asefovitz from Transnet Freight Rail Corporate Affairs. He admits that the old flappers needed replacement every two years.

Photo: Ester van der Westhuizen-Coetzer

Replacing old diverters

Because of the ineffectiveness of the old diverters at night, the devices will now be replaced with Raptor Clamp Overhead Warning Light (OWL) diverters to prevent similar instances in the future. These devices include a solar powered flashing LED light to alert birds travelling during low light conditions.

Transnet have committed to contributing towards the replacement of the old devices, but this might take time. “We are going to procure these devices to assist where possible, but for the large amount of devices required, we would need to approach the market, which will be a formal tender process,” says Asefovitz.

As a result of limited funding available over the short term, BirdLife South Africa is trying to assist through public donations.

A tagged flamingo that collided with the lines and died. Photo: Ester van der Westhuizen-Coetzer

Play your part

Any member of the public can assist the near-threatened lesser flamingos of Kamfers Dam by sponsoring a diverter. A single OWL diverter costs R600 and it is estimated that 2 000 are required to cover all high risk areas.  Transnet are able to cover the cost of just over 50 diverters over the short term.  Click here if you want to sponsor an OWL diverter.

Written by René de Klerk 

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