Three flamingos (codenamed NFX, NFF and NFZ) were successfully fitted with sophisticated GPS satellite tracking devices at Mile 4 Saltworks, Swakopmund over the past month.
This satellite tracking study of the threatened Greater and Lesser Flamingos marks a landmark scientific enquiry for Namibia. To date, the only other satellite tracking study currently taking place is in neighbouring Botswana.
This milestone initiative is a key component of an innovative project to track the flight paths of flagship wetland bird species in order to address major conservation issues.
Large, charismatic birds such as flamingos and cranes are universally regarded as flagships for the conservation of wetland habitats.
Unfortunately, these species cannot be confined to protected areas.
Nomadic migratory species often encounter threats in unprotected areas, including collisions with overhead lines or snaring/hunting.
Other major threats to the migratory birds include natural hydrogen-sulphide eruptions, human induced changes to breeding sites (such as mining sites), disturbance from low-flying aircraft and climate change.
As an aid to mitigating these problems, there is a need to determine the flight paths of such species so that potentially problematic areas can be identified and targeted for further conservation action.
According to Ann and Mike Scott, two scientists working on the project, the “Flight paths for wetland flagships” project seeks to accomplish its aims by tracking the flight paths of Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo, and Blue Crane – all on the Red List;
In so doing, the results will have a ripple effect on environmental conservation in a broader sense, to the benefit of all inter-dependent wetland species, habitats and their human communities.
Ann Scott explained that the data, which should represent 2 to 3 years in order to confirm movement patterns, would hopefully pinpoint potentially dangerous “hotspot” areas.
“We are working with NamPower to address such incidents (collision on power lines) and are hoping to set up trials to test different mitigation devices in problem areas.”
To kickstart the project, Ann, Mike and Mark Boorman captured an adult Greater Flamingo on January 9 at the Mile 4 Saltworks near Swakopmund. The flamingo was fitted with a battery-powered GPS Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT).
A second adult was fitted with a solar-powered GPS PTT on 11 January, and an adult Lesser Flamingo with the latter type of device on 17 January.
Transmitters of different designs, with different duty cycles, are being tested for optimum efficiency.
The birds were also ringed with a green plastic band with a unique code (i.e. NFX, NFF and NFZ).
Subsequent re-sightings of the birds in the same area indicated that they were in good health.
The devices are now transmitting signals with detailed information that is picked up by satellite and relayed by Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS/Argos) in France, and downloaded regularly on the Internet.
The latest GPS positions indicate that the birds are still on the saltpans at Mile 4 Saltworks.
Although there were initial indications that the flamingos were showing signs of migrating inland to breed during the rainy season, Ann admitted that they are now waiting for the first big rains next season, as it does not look as though there is sufficient rain this season to trigger any major movements.
The project was initiated in 2012 by the NamPower/Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) Strategic Partnership, in cooperation with the Namibia Crane and Wetlands Working Group.
It is funded by the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) of Namibia, the Nedbank Go Green Fund and the above Partnership.
Other collaborators include the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and many other organisations and individual supporters, both local and international.
The project funders and partners, the many supporters and especially the flamingo capture team are all thanked for their invaluable contributions.
Further information is available on websites http://www.nnf.org.na/NNF_pages/nampowerproject.htm and www.eifnamibia.com