Articles Posted in the Conservation category

Environmentalists lose appeal against flamingo dam development

April 17, 2009
Posted in Conservation

baby-flamingo

A baby flamingo at Kamfers Dam taken by the Flamcam webcam on the breeding island, courtesy Save the Flamingo Association

Environmentalists concerned about the future of the lesser flamingos at Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam – one of only four sites in the whole of Africa where these birds breed – received some bad news this week. Their appeal against a decision to allow a massive housing development to be built in close proximity to the dam has been overturned.

Mark Anderson, the ornithologist who was dismissed from his job at the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation because of his work trying to save the flamingos of Kamfers Dam, broke the news at a talk he gave in Johannesburg on Tuesday organised by Birdlife South Africa to raise funds for the flamingos.

He said the Save the Flamingo Association will now have to take their battle to court, but the Kimberley-based group will need to raise about R1-million to pay for this legal action.

There have been lesser flamingos on Kamfers Dam for decades, but it wasn’t until January 2008 that the flamingos started to breed successfully thanks to an artificial island built for the birds in a part of the dam where disturbances, such as from people and dogs, could be minimised.

A breeding island for greater flamingos in the Camargue, in the Rhone Delta, France, that had been built in the 1970s was something of an inspiration to Anderson. But he and his colleagues were the first to build an island for lesser flamingos. They were amazed at how quickly the flamingos accepted the island, within four days of the completion of the island in 2006, 17 flamingos were spotted on it.

The island was built from 26,500 tonnes of material, mainly calcrete from a local quarry, and is topped with a 200mm layer of clay from which the flamingos make their nest turrets. It’s S-shape provides two sheltered bays and four ponds, which have submersible pumps powered by solar panels, keep the material wet for the birds to build their nests. The island was built with the help of local company Ekapa Mining.

The first breeding attempt on the island in January 2007 was unsuccessful and between May and August 2007 there were no birds on the island at all. Anderson began to worry that he had built a R500,000 white elephant. But then in September, the birds began to arrive and up to 40,000 were counted on the island that month. In January 2008, the first six baby flamingos were seen and by March there were 9,000 of them.

A great milestone had been reached: it was the first time lesser flamingos had bred on an artificial island, but, more importantly, it was the first time lesser flamingos had bred successfully in South Africa. In Africa they breed at Etosha Pan in Namibia, Sua Pan in Botswana and Lake Natron in Tanzania. Lesser flamingos are listed in the Red Data Book because their numbers are declining. The fact that they “put their eggs in too few baskets”, so to speak, doesn’t help. This is an important reason why the Kamfers Dam breeding site should be conserved, says Anderson.

The development, which Anderson says will comprise 6,500 houses and is, at its closest point, 250m from the dam, isn’t the only thing threatening flamingos. Raw sewerage is leaking into the dam from the broken Homevale sewerage works causing the water quality to deteriorate. The Save the Flamingo campaign is trying to persuade the local authorities to take urgent action to prevent the dam from becoming a “polluted cesspool devoid of birdlife, and a hazard to the people of Kimberley”.

The Kamfers Dam flamingos could be a huge ecotourism attraction for Kimberley, says Anderson.

They have now bred successfully for two years in a row. This year there may be as many as 15,000 chicks by the end of the season, says Anderson. Lesser flamingos on Estosha Pan breed successfully on average every 10 years – a comparison that serves to highlight the importance of the new breeding site for Southern Africa’s lesser flamingo population.

A state-of-the-art webcam was installed on the island at a cost of R250,000 last year that allows Mark and the rest of the world to get a rare glimpse at what’s going on among the flamingos – their breeding sites are usually too remote to allow people to get up close and personal. The webcam is not working properly at present – it is thought to have been struck by lightning – and it may be a while before anyone can access the island to fix it. In the meantime, though, Mark’s wife Tania has made some videos using the webcam which you can see on the Save the Flamingo Facebook site. One I particularly like is of a day-old chick on a nest turret.

Mark Anderson accepted a job as the executive director of Birdlife SA shortly before he and two of his colleagues, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann, were suspended by the Northern Cape conservation department for their work trying to save the flamingos in August 2008.

Eric Hermann returned to work late last year, but according to Anderson, Julius Koen is still at home, without access to his pension accrued after working 34 years for the department.

Anderson himself was found guilty on all 17 charges against him at a disciplinary hearing he was unable to attend. But he says he is taking the matter to court.

To find out what you can do to help save the lesser flamingos of Kamfers Dam visit Save the Flamingo‘s website.

Webcam keeps an eye on flamingo chicks

December 30, 2008
Posted in Conservation

baby-flamingo

One of the first of this year’s lesser flamingo hatchlings on Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam. Photo courtesy Save the Flamingo Association

Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam now has a live streaming webcam trained on its lesser flamingos which allows researchers and the general public a rare close-up view of a flamingo breeding colony comprising thousands of birds.

The colony is now well into its second breeding season.

Last year about 9,000 chicks hatched on an S-shaped artificial island specially constructed for the birds in the middle of the dam, making it the only lesser flamingo breeding site in South Africa and one of only four on the whole continent.

This year the breeding season started much earlier than last year – the first egg was reportedly spotted at the end of October – and more chicks are expected, says the Save the Flamingo Association, an environmental non-profit organisation based in Kimberley.

The Save the Flamingo Association is trying to conserve the birds’ Kamfers Dam breeding site which is threatened by deteriorating water quality from effluent spilling from a broken sewerage works and from a proposed massive residential and commercial development on a property adjoining the wetland.

In November the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation gave the proposed Northgate development the go-ahead. The Save the Flamingo Association has lodged an appeal against this decision, it says in an entry on its Facebook site.

The water quality is the more immediate threat to both the birds and the local human residents. A recent newspaper report said that water quality tests show high levels of faecal coliform bacteria in Kamfers Dam, which poses a risk of waterborne gastroenteritis. The dam water also tested positive for Clostridium, which causes botulism in birds.

Kimberley’s ailing Homevale sewage treatment works is reported to be the source of the effluent in Kamfers Dam. But it is part of a much wider problem in the province. In September, the water affairs and forestry minister Lindiwe Hendricks said in parliament that all the sewage works in the Northern Cape were operating below acceptable standards.

The association says it urgently needs funds to (a) conduct water quality analyses, (b) undertake legal action, (c) maintain the flamingo breeding island, and (c) ensure that Kamfers Dam and the adjoining properties are conserved.

The Save the Flamingo Association has set up an online donation system for anyone interested in contributing towards their work at Kamfers Dam.

Meanwhile, the lesser flamingos at another breeding colony, this time on Tanzania’s Lake Natron, have become the stars of a new Walt Disney film entitled The Crimson Wing – Mystery of the Flamingos.

The more than a million flamingos that gather on the shores of the huge soda lake, create an extraordinary natural spectacle, yet few people visit the area, says Birdlife International. According to filmmaker Matthew Aeberhard, “More people have walked on the moon than have been out on the mudflats where the flamingos have their breeding colonies”.

But, according to BirdLife International, a proposed soda ash plant at Lake Natron and the associated infrastructure may displace and scatter the lesser flamingos.

“They [Natron’s flamingos] could be very heavily impacted by minor developments,” Aeberhard said. “A company starts mining here and the water level may change, the salt balance may change”.

BirdLife International is leading a “Think Pink” campaign to conserve Lake Natron.

Conservationists to appeal decision to build near flamingo dam

November 17, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Photo: Flock of lesser flamingo on Kamfers Dam, Kimberley. © Save the Flamingo campaign

The Save the Flamingo campaign and BirdLife South Africa have indicated that they will appeal the decision to allow a massive housing and commercial development to be built next to Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam, South Africa’s only lesser flamingo breeding site, Eleanor Momberg of the Sunday Independent reports.

The Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation gave the Northgate development the go-ahead in a record of decision issued on November 7.

If the appeals are unsuccessful the Save the Flamingo campaign will consider taking legal action to stop the development, Momberg reports.

The Save the Flamingo campaign has been trying to raise money and collect signatures on a petition to urge the authorities to take action to save the flamingos. Not only from the proposed development, but more urgently, to do something about the deteriorating water quality in the dam as a result of the inability of the Homevale sewerage treatment works to process Kimberley’s sewerage. Raw effluent has reportedly been pouring into the dam and surrounding wetlands and affecting the health of the flamingos.

Meanwhile, on the matter of the three officials suspended by the department apparently for their involvement in trying to protect the flamingo breeding site: a department spokesman told Momberg that Eric Hermann of scientific services had been reinstated to his post. The disciplinary hearing of Julius Koen, the deputy director of conservation, has been scheduled for later this month. And world-renowned ornithologist Mark Anderson’s hearing is expected to be held in March 2009. Anderson took up the post of executive director of BirdLife SA in October.

Kamfers Dam: Northgate development gets green light

November 11, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation has given the go-ahead for the Northgate commercial and housing development to be built near Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam lesser flamingo breeding site, Volksblad reports.

The record of decision includes conditions that take the protection of the flamingos and issues with the Homevale sewerage works into account. Raw sewerage has reportedly been leaking from the sewerage treatment works into the dam and has been a major source of concern for the flamingo conservationists.

The RoD states that construction cannot start until “the alternative sewage system (which will be used) is approved in compliance with all applicable laws, constructed and operational AND/OR the upgrade on the existing Homevale sewerage treatment works, which will improve the capacity to the extent that it can accommodate additional effluent, is completed”.

Measures to protect the flamingo include:

  • a solid wall with no open gaps or windows must be built with the mininmum height of 2 metres prior to any further construction.
  • The wall must be electrified with at least three strands of electric wire
  • The development footprint must be completely walled in with controlled access gates
  • 24-hour security monitoring including a camera covering the island is recommended

These measures are aimed at minimising human movement to the dam and preventing disturbance of the flamingos by residents.

The RoD was issued on November 7. Interested and affected parties have 30 days to appeal.

The Kamfers Dam site is one of only six lesser flamingo breeding sites in the world and the only one in South Africa. News on the Save the Flamingo campaign Facebook site is that the second breeding season has begun. The first egg was spotted on October 23 and there are high hopes that this season will be as successful as the first one. In May, 9,000 chicks were counted at the end of the first breeding season on the dam.

Scientists call on Tanzanian government to protect Lake Natron

October 7, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Lesser flamingo on Lake Bogoria in East Africa's Rift Valley.

Lesser flamingo on Lake Bogoria in East Africa. Picture courtesy BirdLife International, www.jameswarwick.co.uk

Conservationists have urged the government of Tanzania to protect Lake Natron, the world’s most important lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) breeding site, from a proposed soda ash (sodium bicarbonate) plant.

The Lesser Flamingo population in East Africa – some 1.5-million to 2.5 million birds – accounting for 75% of the global population, is dependent on the lake for its survival, stated 250 scientists from around the world, who had gathered near Cape Town for the 12thPan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 12), in a resolution. Read more

Update: Kimberley’s flamingo dam suspensions

September 19, 2008
Posted in Conservation

A hearing on the suspension of three officials from the Northern Cape tourism, environment and conservation department is expected today, Sapa reported earlier this week.

The officials, Mark Anderson, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann, were suspended last month for what is believed to be their involvement in a campaign to save the lesser flamingo breeding colony on Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam. It is the largest colony of the flamingos in South Africa and one of only four breeding sites in the whole of Africa.

Ornithologist Mark Anderson, one of the suspended men, received an international award for his contributions to the conservation, research and monitoring of migratory water birds this week at the meeting of the African-Eurasion Waterbird Agreement in Madagascar.

Anderson is reportedly the driving force behind the work to save Kimberley’s lesser flamingo colony, but it appears to be because of these efforts that he has been suspended. The Save the Flamingo campaign brought attention to threats to the Kamfers Dam colony from raw sewage leaking from the Homevale Sewerage Works into the dam and a proposed massive housing and commercial development.

The Save the Flamingo Association says that its campaign has had many success, including the recent moratorium on any further developments in Kimberley until the Homevale Sewerage Works is upgraded. On its Save the Flamingo website it says: “Despite years of discussion and negotiation, there had been no progress until the Save the Flamingo Association commenced with its campaign. The Association is grateful to the many people who have signed the petition and donated funds towards the campaign. The battle is however far from over, and the desired end result is a sewerage works which can adequately cope with Kimberley’s sewage water.”

Meanwhile, a webcam has been installed on the island by Africam (See “Flamingo” link on www.africam.com). The image above is a screen grab from the webcam’s site. Initially, only refresh images are available, but it is anticipated that live streaming images will be available once band width problems have been resolved, the association says.

Now we all have an opportunity to get a close-up view one of Kimberley’s most spectacular tourist attractions.

Kimberley ornithologist receives charge sheet

September 7, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Kimberley ornithologist Mark Anderson – who was suspended with two of his colleagues by the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and nature conservation last month for what appears to be their efforts to protect the flamingo breeding site on Kamfers Dam – has received his charge sheet this week, the Saturday Star reports. But his colleagues, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann have not. Read more

Flamingo conservationists may soon learn why they were suspended

August 30, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Mark Anderson, the ornithologist, and two of his colleagues, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann, who were suspended by the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation, may this week find out why they were suspended, the UK’s Times Online reports.

The Times quotes Les Abrahams, a spokesman for the department, as saying that the three men would receive official letters explaining their suspension and the disciplinary procedure this week.

Anderson is reportedly worried about the flamingo chicks on the Kamfers Dam nesting site. He told the Times that, “The quality of the water is deteriorating and we’re very worried. I’ve just received a 33-page report from the University of the Free State saying there’s clostridium from the raw sewage which causes botulism in birds. If we keep quiet about this, 65,000 flamingos are going to go belly up.”

A spokesman for the local council told the Times that it had a dedicated engineer trying to fix the pipes from the sewage works that is leaking sewerage into the dam.

Read the full report on the Times Online

Update: Suspended conservationists

August 22, 2008
Posted in Conservation

No further light seems to have been shed this week on why the three conservationists of the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and conservation were suspended. An official from the deparment was reported by Sapa on Tuesday as saying that it was an internal matter and the department would not comment on it. Sapa also reported that a call had been made for a commission of inquiry into the Kamfers Dam saga. The Northern Cape head of the African Christian Democrat Party, Francois van Wyk, has requested that the province’s premier, Dipuo Peters, urgently appoint a commission of inquiry. He said the province’s economy depended on eco-tourism and that the suspension of three senior conservation officials who worked with the flamingo project would cause huge damage nationally and internationally.

Update: Birdlife snaps up one suspended flamingo conservationist, but what of the other two?

August 15, 2008
Posted in Conservation

Mark Anderson, one of the three conservationists suspended by the Northern Cape department of tourism, environment and nature conservation, has found a new job at Birdlife South Africa. He has been appointed executive director with effect from 1 October 2008.

Anderson, will receive an award for his work with Kimberley’s flamingos in Madagascar in September, says Birdlife South Africa.

The two other employees suspended for what is thought to be their involvement in establishing South Africa’s only flamingo breeding site, Julius Koen and Eric Hermann, are less fortunate. A report in Kimberley’s Diamond Fields Advertiser says that staff in the department said that the three men’s “equipment, laptops and cell phones” were confiscated and the locks on their office doors were changed.

The DFA reports that their is speculation as to whether the suspensions are politically motivated and whether promises had been made by politicians to developers wanting to build near the Kamfers Dam flamingo breeding site.

The Northern Cape legislature can expect a class action against them, Dr Gerhard Verdoorn of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, was reported as saying.

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