Rescuers have moved hundreds of dehydrated Lesser Flamingo chicks from their breeding ground at a drought-stricken Kamfers Dam to a bird sanctuary in Cape Town, to save them from death by starvation and lack of water. Their birthplace, Kamfers Dam in the Northern Cape, is one of only three breeding grounds for the famous pink birds in southern Africa; the other two being in Namibia and Botswana, according to researcher Katta Ludynia.

The rescued chicks take three to four months to fledge, and it is not yet clear whether they will eventually be released back into the wild in Cape Town or transported back hundreds of kilometres to their home in Kimberley.

‘There are still several thousand birds breeding in the dam in areas that still have water,’ said Katta Ludynia, research manager at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). ‘It now depends on the water levels whether these birds will pull through.’

Ludynia said the sanctuary was caring for around 550 chicks, most of them dehydrated when they first arrived on Monday after being abandoned by parents who went off in search of food. The chicks are being moved to the sanctuary by plane and road. SANCCOB is one of several centres across South Africa caring for around 2 000 chicks that were rescued from the dam.

Although it hosts the biggest population of Lesser Flamingos in southern Africa, Kamfers Dam, situated to the north of Kimberley, is often dry and depends mainly on rain water. It also gets some water from a sewerage works that releases water into its wetlands.

‘The dam in Kimberley is so important because it is manageable, so we can secure the water level there and that might be the only site the flamingos can breed in southern Africa, if the drought continues in other areas,’ Ludynia said.

Reports of thousands of flamingos being shipped across South Africa have led to questions about the role played by drought and poor infrastructure. The chicks were abandoned by their parents because of the dam’s low level, chief executive officer of BirdLife South Africa, Mark Anderson, said.

Kamfers Dam became a key breeding island in 2006 when Ekapa Mining built a large, S-shaped island for the dam’s Lesser Flamingos. Between 2007 and 2011, over 24 000 flamingo chicks would hatch on the island, as well as a hundred Greater Flamingo chicks. The dam would become known as ‘the first breeding locality in South Africa’ for the threatened Lesser Flamingo, according to BirdLife South Africa; one of only four sites in the world where the species breeds.

However, the dam’s location in the semi-arid Northern Cape means that it requires a lot of water. Typically, the dam gets its water from three main sources: partially treated effluent (liquid waste) from Kimberley’s waste treatment plant amounting to 30 to 40 megalitres a day, at least half of Kimberley’s storm-water runoff, and rain.

But despite flash floods in 2010 that flooded Kamfers Dam and destroyed two railway lines, causing millions of Rands in damage, the Northern Cape has faced a long drought. ‘Kimberly is very dry. They’ve had about 50 mm of rain since last April,’ said Anderson, adding ‘hopefully Kimberley will get some rain this weekend.’ Infrastructure problems such as leaking pipes and malfunctioning pump stations mean that the city’s effluent is not reaching the sewage works and rather flowing into the veld.

Without storm-water runoff and rainwater, and with leaky infrastructure too, it is expected that between five-and six-thousand chicks could be breeding at Kamfers Dam.

Dr Andrew Jenkins from BirdLife South Africa will be monitoring the situation to record the number of breeding birds and advise on further rescues. The ideal situation, says Anderson, would be to have the flamingo parents raise their young.

Another issue is that the effluent used to fill Kamfers Dam is also used in mining activities in and around Kimberley, and, according to Matsie, the mining operations received the effluent first before it is distributed further to farms, like the one that is home to Kamfers Dam.

Article adapted from and

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