Over 2 000 lesser flamingo chicks have been abandoned at Kamfers Dam near Kimberley, due to falling water levels resulting in a lack of available food, blue-green algae. The surplus of starving and dehydrated chicks has been distributed to various wildlife facilities across South Africa. A natural phenomenon or something more sinister?
Reasons of the falling dam levels at Kamfers Dam
Low rainfall and high temperatures have contributed to the increased evaporation rates at Kamfers Dam.
Kamfers Dam is dependent on run-off from the city. “Almost no treated sewage effluent was flowing into Kamfers Dam from the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW),” explains Tania Anderson, ecologist involved with monitoring at Kamfers Dam. “This is because the pump stations pumping the sewage to the Homevale WWTW are not working and sewerage pipes are leaking.”
Therefore, a combination of drought and failing infrastructure has contributed to dropping dam levels, resulting in the semi-permanent population of 30 000 to 40 000 lesser flamingos to abandon their eggs.
Where did the adult flamingos go?
They are still there but in the middle of the dam where the water is. Fortunately, the older chicks have not yet been affected by this event. The older flamingo chicks, being more mobile, are kept in a crèche protected by a babysitter and have moved with the adults to the middle of Kamfers Dam. The adults will still continue to feed smaller chicks on their nests further away from the water, bringing them food after feeding, as long as they are not disturbed.
Do flamingos often abandon their chicks?
Yes, in nature birds are known to abandon their chicks, African penguins will desert their chick if it has not fledged when they start moulting. “Lesser flamingos will abandon their nest and eggs if the pan or lake dries up,” says Anderson. Flamingos will also stop incubating their eggs and leave small chicks if they are disturbed by humans or harassed by predators.
Should humans interfere?
“No one really recommends humans interference and humans have seldom interfered at the other breeding sites for lesser flamingos,” says Anderson. However, in this case, the problem was created through the mismanagement of Kamfers Dam, as its water levels are controlled by the inflow of treated sewage effluent from the sewerage works.
Kamfers Dam is an important breeding site for lesser flamingos, one of only six in the world. Dr. Andrew Jenkins from Birdlife South Africa is monitoring the flamingos at Kamfers Dam and will determine if more chicks or eggs will need to be rescued. At this stage the flamingos are still breeding, incubating their eggs and feeding chicks in the breeding area closer to the remaining water.
How to care for abandoned flamingo chicks
The rescued chicks are being fed and cared for at suitable facilities across the country, namely UShaka Marine World, SANCOBB, Montecasino Bird Gardens and the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (Pretoria Zoo) and several other facilities. The abandoned chicks will need to be cared for until they fledge in another two months or so.
Flamingo chicks fledge at the age of 10-13 weeks, by then their lamellae, filter apparatus in their bills are fully developed and they can feed themselves.
Facilities are left scrambling for formula, heating lamps, containers, medicines and disinfectants to help care for the chicks.
The future of the abandoned chicks
Once fledged the chicks will be screened for diseases and released back into the wild, preferably at Kamfers Dam or other suitable lesser flamingo habitats.
How can you help the abandoned flamingo chicks?
- Volunteer at a facility caring for the abandoned flamingo chicks.
- Donate food and supplies to help care for the flamingos.
- Donated to Birdlife South Africa to address the overarching problems at Kamfers Dam.
How do we prevent this from happening again, next year?
“We need to fix and maintain Kimberley’s sewerage system and treat the sewage entering Homevale WWTW to the required standard before it is released into Kamfers Dam,” says Anderson. “So that we can keep the water level at a constant depth and fair quality that is suitable for blue-green algal growth.”
Raw sewage is leaking into Platfontein pans creating an environmental hazard. The Sol Plaatje Municipality needs to fix dysfunctional pump stations and leaking sewage pipes.
In 2006 Ornithologist Mark Anderson envisioned a safe breeding space for lesser flamingo, seasonal residents at Kamfers Dam, as they had attempted to breed on the shoreline but failed due to human disturbance. Along with local mining company Ekapa Minerals, they constructed an S-shaped island in the centre of the dam using over 26 000 tonnes of calcrete, rock, and clay. Today Kamfers Dam is the only breeding location for lesser flamingos in South Africa.
Cover Photo: Mark Anderson/ IIP Photo Archive
For more updates join the Save the Flamingo Facebook Group