Pink flock in the red as drought destroys flamingos’ home
The race is on to save thousands of chicks whose dam has dried up thanks to a drought and a burst pipe
A colony of Lesser Flamingos in Kamfers Dam, Kimberley, are on the brink of annihilation as drought and infrastructure problems have dried the lake where they breed.
The Lesser Flamingo is a threatened species with only about 80,000 of the pink birds left in the world. Kamfers Dam supports the largest flock of this species in sub-Saharan Africa but has dried up because of severe drought and because the pipe supplying treated sewage water from the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works has collapsed.
Environmentalists accuse the Sol Plaatjie Municipality of mismanagement, but the municipality says there is nothing it can do about a drought.
The municipality also admits that the pipe supplying the dam with water has collapsed, but that it is working to fix the problem. It blames gasses in the treated water for the degradation of the pipe.
Over the next couple of weeks an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 chicks will be removed from the lake and taken to sanctuaries around SA, including in Leeufontein, outside Pretoria, which is expected to take in thousands.
uShaka Marine World in Durban has taken in 250 stranded chicks.
The adult flamingos have either perished or deserted the dried-up mud nests.
But relocating a flock from one of the last breeding grounds comes with complications, since the young birds need to be fed a special and diverse diet every three to four hours, and they need to be flown around the country with as little human interaction as possible.
Mike Bolhuis, an investigator into serious violent and economic crimes, has offered his smallholding in Leeufontein for the majority of the chicks.
He said the cause of the drought was poor infrastructure management at the municipality, and that he was investigating mismanagement at the municipality.
According to Bolhuis, the pipes that pump the treated water are in disrepair, which, coupled with the drought and use of the water by the nearby Ekapa Mine, has left the 400ha pan completely dry.
But the municipality says it has done nothing wrong.
It admitted there was a collapsed pipe and that it transported water to nearby mines, but denied the collapsing infrastructure was due to negligence on its part.
The flamingos make nests out of raised mud platforms, in a big group on an island in the middle of the dam.
The eggs have begun to hatch because of the heat.
As the eggs hatch, a team of volunteers working with the Kimberley SPCA rescues the chicks and fliesy them to sanctuaries that have room for them.
Bolhuis already has an established flock of 120 flamingos, which live in several dams on his smallholding. According to the investigator, the flamingos will be raised in Leeufontein for two to three weeks until they are able to feed themselves, after which they will be taken to sanctuaries around Gauteng, including the Montecasino Bird Park.
“The adults [flamingos] need to walk or fly to forage. They were losing an incredible amount of energy the further they foraged and many of the adults died. Others chose to fend for themselves in order to survive.
“It’s really a miracle that of the first 900 chicks relocated [to Leeufontein], only one of them died. These chicks have a zest for life and they are fighting to survive,” he said. According to conservation group Birdlife South Africa, Kamfers Dam has the largest population of Lesser Flamingos in Southern Africa.
Their demise would be a disaster for the species.
Birdlife South Africa chief executive Mark Anderson said: “The worst is that this catastrophe could have been averted if the Sol Plaatje Municipality had heeded the call from conservationists and ornithologists over the past 15 years to fix the sewage works … If anything, I hope that the current catastrophe will be the wake-up call which finally gets the municipality to fix the mess.”
Municipality spokesperson Sello Matsie admitted there was a problem with the water supply to the dam, but denied it was because of negligence on the municipality’s part.
“I’m not saying everything is okay. There is a problem. But there is a mechanical reason for the problem and we reject that it’s a dereliction of duty,” he said.
Matsie said the pipe that transports the water had collapsed in two places. He added that in the 35 years the pipe had been in place, it had collapsed several times because of sewage gasses.
“The place where the dam is, is private property. We have no legal obligation to supply the place with water. But we are also not denying the place water. We have a legal obligation to supply the mines with the water first.
“We are in a severe drought at the moment and we have had a drought before. In 2016 the flamingos left because of the drought, but they came back.
“We are struggling to supply water to the town and the infrastructure needed will cost around R300m. The unfortunate part is that the impression created is that it's a wilful act of municipality to deny the dam water. I understand the frustration of the bird people, I just wonder what they would do in our position,” Matsie said.