Population declines, viable breeding areas, and management options for flamingos in southern Africa

  • Simmons R
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Habitat rehabilitation or intervention to prevent species declines
are rarely employed in Africa. I argue that despite protection in
national parks, active intervention is necessary to halt declines
in southern Africa's Greater (Phoenicopterus ruber) and Lesser (Phoeniconaias
minor) Flamingo populations. Flamingos are long-lived species that
breed sporadically at only two localities in southern Africa: the
Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana and Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Despite well-publicized breeding on Etosha Pan, flamingos have experienced
only three major breeding events in 40 years. Breeding failure occurs
when high evaporation rates rapidly dry the pan, and up to 100,000
flightless chicks may starve. Consequently, pairs breeding in Etosha
exhibit extraordinarily low recruitment (0. 040 young pair\\year)
and extrapolations indicate that adults can replace themselves only
if they breed for 38 to 50 years and all offspring survive. Because
survival of offspring from fledging to adulthood (5 years) is about
46%, this breeding lifespan rises to an unrealistic 83 years, making
Etosha a nonviable breeding site. Alternative, suitable flamingo
habitats in Africa are being mined for soda-ash, are damaged by pollution,
or are unprotected. Accordingly, continent-wide estimates and those
from southern Africa alone suggest a population decline of about
40% in both species over the last 15 years. Because Namibia regularly
supports 84% of the Greater and 93% of the Lesser Flamingos in southern
Africa, conservation strategies are best focused there. Simple but
effective management methods, based on those employed in western
Europe, could reverse these downward trends. In Etosha a small island
surrounded by a water-filled depression would allow up to 4000 pairs
to breed annually. The benefits of enhancing the breeding of flamingos
in Etosha include research opportunities, tourism revenue, and a
safe haven for two Red Data species.

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  • Robert E. Simmons

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