Late in January, scenes of dead lesser flamingo chicks at Kamfers Dam in Kimberley stirred emotions across the country, resulting in a mass rescue of about 2 000 chicks. The water was drying up and some of the adults had apparently abandoned their nests and chicks in the process.
It will always be difficult to tell whether the rescue was premature or not, especially with emotions running high. Despite rain falling over subsequent days, a great deal of attention was created for the plight of this Near Threatened species.
According to Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa, “It is absolutely amazing how this outcry brought so many people together. This outcry can raise awareness around sewage problems across the country,” explains Anderson. The situation occurred as a result of infrastructure problems combined with less rainfall.
The history of lesser flamingos at Kamfers Dam
The history of Kamfers Dam is interesting, as it is not really a dam. It is a large shallow depression forming a pan, which occasionally filled with water after good spells of rain in this dry part of South Africa. Then its nature changed with the construction of the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works, which pumped treated effluent water into the pan. More recently, due to failing infrastructure and lack of maintenance, this flow dried up.
Lesser flamingos saw Kamfers Dam as a breeding site when it became a permanent water source, and because of high algal concentrations due to nutrient enrichment. The construction of an artificial island resulted in the first successful breeding attempt in 2007/8. That year, 9 000 chicks were counted. The following years’ efforts produced 13 000 chicks, then 1 800 chicks and 100 in the two subsequent years due to flooding of the island. For five years the population did not breed due to unfavourable conditions.
“Last summer they bred again and produced an estimated 8 000 chicks,” says Anderson. And now they are breeding again.
The flamingo fiasco at Kamfers Dam
Because of this summer’s receding water and the apparent abandonment of some of the eggs and chicks, around 2 000 chicks were removed from Kamfers Dam and sent to facilities that could care for them, including SANCCOB, uShaka Marine World and the National Zoological Gardens. However, further fatalities were inevitable.
According to Anderson, chicks should not be fed within the first day or two after hatching as they first need to absorb the egg sac. Those involved in the rescue might not have known whether this had happened. SANCCOB, despite its expert care facilities, lost just over 300 of their 560 chicks.
“We believe these birds were fed before sending them,” says Ronnis Daniels, public relations officer at SANCCOB. The early feeding resulted in a number of infections. “Most of our mortalities occurred in the first 24–48 hours after arrival,” she said.
SANCCOB has over 10 years’ experience and expertise in hand-rearing chicks (albeit seabirds) and has the appropriate facilities, veterinary staff, rehabilitation methodology, heat lamps and a specialist rearing unit to accommodate high-care patients.
The future of Kamfers Dam
Once the flamingo chicks reach a certain age, they will be returned to Kamfers Dam or other sites in the wild. However, as suitable Anderson advises, there needs to be certain that these chicks are free from diseases and infections, and have not imprinted on humans.
The latest news is that Ekapa Mining has stepped in to assist with the reparation of a gravity pipe. This has increased the water inflow to the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works from nine to 24 megalitres a day, meaning water will once again flow into Kamfers Dam.
Written by René de Klerk
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