Articles Posted in the Conservation, Lead category

Natural pest control is such a hoot

October 1, 2009
Posted in Conservation, Lead

scops-owl

Owls are associated with wisdom in some cultures, think of the wise old owl in the Winnie the Pooh stories. But, sadly, those stories are about as close as some kids are ever likely come to the birds.

Not everyone in South Africa would see this as a big loss, though. Owls are feared in many African cultures because they’re associated with back luck and death. Take this story from a Birdlife International news release this week, for instance. A family in Zimbabwe apparently  called their local Birdlife for help because they feared they’d been bewitched by an owl and were apparently afraid for their lives.

The owl turned out to be a white-faced Scops-owl (Otus leucotis), like the one pictured above, that had been hanging around the family’s home for about four months. “The father of the family was very scared and did not want to go anywhere near the tree where the owl was perched”, Rueben Njolomole, BirdLife Zimbabwe’s education officer said. “The owl did not want to leave the source of it’s food, and may have been a domesticated owl which had escaped because it was not scared of humans.”

Owls’ nocturnal calls may seem creepy to some, I suppose, but to others they’re lovely and the birds serve a useful purpose in suburbia. They can eat thousands of rodents each year, reducing the need for other, often poisonous, methods of control.

Birdlife Zimbabwe says it has decided to do something about the negative folklore surrounding owls in that country. Its staff are visiting local schools to educate children about the benefits the birds can bring and the organisation wants to produce a 30-minute documentary for national television to demystify  owls.

In South Africa, owls have much the same image problem. But I just came across a company called EcoSolutions that’s doing its bit to make people in Johannesburg and other urban centres more owl friendly. It has set up an urban owl box project in Gauteng, Northwest and the Western Cape provinces in a bid to give the neighbourhood spotted eagle owls and barn owls somewhere to breed.  The project also entails an education programme in schools.

“Many owls hunt within suburban gardens and although food is available, breeding sites are in short supply,” EcoSolutions says on its website.

So, if you want to do your bit to bring owls back to your leafy ‘burb – and encourage natural rodent control – you can contact EcoSolutions about installing an artificial owl breeding box in your garden – look at their website for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re good with tools, you could build your own owl box, the Endangered Wildlife Trust put together some information on how to do it here.

Picture credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/frank-wouters/ / CC BY 2.0

Less rubbish, please

July 23, 2009
Posted in Green News

The government wants people to throw less waste into landfills and reuse and recycle more. “We need to move away from being a throw-away society … to one which is much more responsible and cognisant of the need to … minimize waste and dispose as a last resort,” the new(ish) minister of water and environment affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, said in a speech she apparently gave at the local government indaba on environment this week (it was sent out in a media release).

But to get more people to start recycling, local municipalities will have to start making it easier to recycle. There are a committed few who carefully clean and sort their plastics, cans, glass and paper and then take them to the municipal collection centres. But, let’s be honest, it’s a schlep finding somewhere to store all the stuff until you’re ready to load up the car and drive to the drop-off point – which for some people can be quite a long way from home. Those of us who can afford it can pay for a kerbside collection service – free ones are few and far between. But, all in all, there isn’t much in the way of official incentives to get people to recycle.

Could things be about to change, though? The minister said that her department is developing South Africa’s “master plan”, called the National Waste Management Strategy, that will “guide us on how we reduce the amount of waste generated, recover materials where possible, recycle and reuse …”.  She added that her department expects that municipalities “will have to ensure that communities will have access to separate waste bins that will cater for recyclable and non-recyclables”. I wonder what that means. Will we one day in the near future be able to put out a wheelie bin of recyclables on municipal rubbish collection day? That would be nice.

Green your home improvement

July 23, 2009
Posted in Green tips, Lifestyle

The BUDD green home-improvement “rule”:
B = Buy only what you need,
U = Use everything you buy,
D = Donate any leftover materials,
D= Dispose of waste responsibly.

This came in an email from Friends of the Earth UK and is so simple and sensible it just has to be shared.

Recycling firm files for liquidation

June 30, 2009
Posted in Green News

Resolution Recycling, which has operated a kerbside collection service in Johannesburg for the past few years, has filed for liquidation. Their collections stopped on June 29, the company said in an email to customers today.

I am so sorry that the company is closing. It was thanks to Resolution that I started recycling. I was much too lazy to separate out my rubbish and take it to drop-off points myself. By providing a wheelie bin into which I could drop everything (because they did the sorting) they made recycling easy. I now find it very difficult to throw anything plastic, paper, metal or glass into an ordinary dustbin. I shall miss the service they provided enormously

African projects win green energy awards

June 16, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

Cooking with briquettes made from agricultural waste

A woman cooks with briquettes made from agricultural waste. The briquettes are clean, easy to handle and reduce cooking time. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

In a continent where millions of people have no access to the electricity grid or simply cannot afford to pay for electricity, small-scale  energy options can have a huge impact in improving the quality of people’s lives. They also play an important role in combating climate change.

Last week the UK-based Ashden Awards gave prizes to two African energy projects that are inspiring examples of how local sustainable energy can make a difference. A Ugandan company producing briquettes from agricultural waste and a rural solar energy project in Ethiopia each were awarded  £20,000 (R260,000). Another award-winner with an African connection is a joint US/Chinese cooking stove scheme that is bringing social and environmental benefits to African countries, including South Africa

ENERGY FROM AGRICULTURAL WASTE

Briquettes made from agricultural waste. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

KJS's briquettes. The company sells 130 tonnes a month and hopes to expand to other African markets. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Kampala Jellitone Suppliers (KJS), a Ugandan coffee-processing company, won an Ashden award for “avoided deforestation” for its briquettes made from the residue left after processing commercial crops, such as rice and peanut husks, coffee pulp and maize stalks.

The company sells 130 tonnes of briquettes every month, along with improved stoves that burn the briquettes more cleanly and efficiently, to schools, universities and hospitals for cooking, and to five factories for producing heat.

In climate terms, this saves 6.1 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of briquettes used, or 9,300 tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to an Ashden Awards press release.

“Using our briquettes reduces the pressure on wood resources and thus reduces deforestation, which is a serious and growing problem – particularly around Kampala [the country’s capital],” said Abasi Kazibwe Musisi, managing director of KJS. “The agricultural residues used to make briquettes were previously burned as they were regarded as waste.”

A traditional home with a photovoltaic panel attached to the roof in Rema, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards.

A traditional home with a photovoltaic panel attached to the roof in Rema, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards.

SOLAR POWER FOR REMOTE VILLAGES

Samson Tsegaye of the Solar Energy Foundation with a solar light. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Samson Tsegaye of the Solar Energy Foundation with a solar light. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

The Solar Energy Foundation, a non-governmental organisation established in 2006, has won the Ashden prize for rural electrification for installing more than 2,000 small solar energy systems in two remote Ethiopian villages, bringing electricity to these communites for the first time.

The 10,000-plus villagers living in Rema and Rema ena Dire, in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, five hours’ drive from Addis Ababa, previously depended on smoky kerosene lamps and candles for their lighting. They reportedly turned down the offer of free diesel generators in favour of solar power.

The villagers pay a monthly fee of about $1 to cover maintenance and repairs to keep the solar systems running. The village committee manages payments and employs nine local people as fee collectors.

“The solar programme has helped develop the community in many ways,” said Samson Tsegaye, the Ethiopian country representative of SEF.

“The local women’s association has set up a popular night school for uneducated adults to improve literacy. School children can now study in the evenings and one teacher claims her pupils’ grades have improved by 75 percent as a result. Fewer people are suffering from eye and respiratory problems associated with kerosene smoke.”

The foundation also has installed a solar-powered water pump in Rema to provide fresh drinking water, saving the villagers from having to walk for two hours to collect water.

“We now have a special financing system in place that will allow us to establish a network of Solar Centres all over Ethiopia over the coming years. Our aim is to initiate self-supporting solar businesses across Ethiopia – and to make ourselves superfluous as an NGO,” said Dr Harald Schützeichel, who established the foundation.

CLEANER COOKING STOVE

Workers pack affordable efficient stoves for export at Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer's factory in China. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Workers pack affordable efficient stoves for export at Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer's factory in China. Photo courtesy Ashden Awards

Domestic coal stoves mass produced by a joint venture between the US-based Aprovecho Research Center (ARC) and Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer (SSM) in China, were named Ashden energy champions last week. Each stove is said to prevent around 1.5 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide from being emitted and reduces toxic emissions by well over half.

About half the world still cooks with biomass or coal, using open fires or traditional stoves. The resulting emissions cause indoor air pollution, leading to serious eye and respiratory problems and kill around 1.5 million people a year, mainly children and women.

The emissions also contribute to climate change. The collection of firewood often leads to deforestation and erosion and is an additional and demanding chore for women.

Tests on the ARC/SSM stoves indicate major environmental benefits and health gains for users: reductions of up to 50% percent in fuelwood use and 70 percent carbon monoxide and particulate emissions compared to a traditional fire.

The stoves are manufactured in China by SSM and sold to distributors around the world — 60,000 stoves have been sold since 2008. They are used in countries including Argentina, Chile, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and South Africa.

Ester Konene, a South African householder who tested an ARC/SSM stove, said: “I used to use two litres of kerosene a day, costing $1.50 (R12). Now a 5kg pack of wood costing US $2.40 (R19) lasts three days. There are no emission problems. I wouldn’t want to give it back.”

For information on other 2009 Ashden Award winners click here

SA gets new biosphere reserve

May 30, 2009
Posted in Conservation

Unspoilt bush stretches to the horizon in the Vhembe area of South Africa's Limpopo province. Picture from www.golimpopo.com

Unspoilt bush stretches to the horizon in the Vhembe area of South Africa's Limpopo province. Picture courtesy www.golimpopo.com

The Vhembe region of Limpopo province became South Africa’s sixth biosphere reserve this week, when Unesco announced the addition of 22 new sites to its World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

These sites, part of Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Programme, are used to experiment with and learn about conservation and sustainable development. In other words, they are “living laboratories” in finding ways to improve people’s relationship with their environment and to reconcile economic development with the conservation of biodiversity.

A golden rhinocerous found at an archeological dig in the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site

A golden rhinocerous found at an archaeological dig in the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site. Pic from www.golimpopo.com

Vhembe is in north-eastern Limpopo, a region of bushveld dotted with iconic baobab trees and abundant animal and bird life. It also has a rich cultural history that dates back to the San and includes the ancient African kingdoms of Mapungubwe and Thulamela.

The new biosphere reserve includes the northern part of the Kruger National Park, the Makuleke Wetlands Ramsar Site, which lies mostly in the Kruger Park, the Soutpansberg and Blouberg biodiversity hotspots, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site – an area of mystery and legend which contains the remnants of an ancient African civilisation – and the Makgabeng Plateau, which has more than 1,000 rock art sites.

The main economic activities in the biosphere reserve are agriculture, including subtropical fruit and vegetable farming, cattle and game farming and hunting.

Biosphere reserves share their experience and ideas nationally, regionally and internationally within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. There are 531 sites worldwide in 105 countries.

BIOSPHERE RESERVES IN SOUTH AFRICA
Vhembe joins five other biosphere reserves in South Africa. The first, Kogelberg in the Western Cape, was declared in 1998, followed by the Cape West Coast reserve in 2000, the Waterberg reserve and the Kruger to Canyons reserve in 2001, and the Cape Winelands in 2007.

Steenbras river in the Kogelberg biosphere reserve, Western Cape. Pic by Coda (http://www.flickr.com/photos/coda). Creative Commons

Steenbras river in the Kogelberg biosphere reserve. Pic by Coda (www.flickr.com/photos/coda). Licenced under Creative Commons

KOGELBERG
This 100,000-hectare reserve extends from around Gordon’s Bay (about an hour from Cape Town up the east coast) to the Bot River (map) and extends inland to include the Elgin basin and the town of Grabouw. It is at the heart of the Cape floral kingdom and is home to about 1,800 plant species, 77 of which occur nowhere else on Earth. The biosphere includes about 25,000 hectares of marine environment. The main economic activities in the area include apple farming, commercial plantations of pines, and tourism.

A colony of gannets at Lambert's Bay in the Cape West Coast biosphere reserve. Pic www.sanparks.org.za

A colony of gannets at Lambert's Bay in the Cape West Coast biosphere reserve. Pic www.sanparks.co.za

CAPE WEST COAST
The biosphere stretches northwards from the Cape Town suburb of Diep River up the west coast to the Berg River, covering 380,000 hectares of coastal lowland plains that are part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Langebaan lagoon, a Ramsar site, and Dassen Island, a pelican breeding site and African penguin colony, are part of the reserve. Interestingly, it claims to be the only biosphere that has a nuclear power station, an oil refinery and a toxic dump site. The main economic activities are agriculture and fishing.

The Waterberg area is the origin of four of Limpopo province's main rivers and is home to 125 mammal and 300 bird species. Pic courtesy www.golimpopo.com

The Waterberg biosphere reserve. Pic from www.golimpopo.com

WATERBERG
The Waterberg savannah biosphere reserve is an area of about 400,000 hectares in Limpopo province, about 2 hours north of Johannesburg. The area forms a wide basin in which the four main rivers of the province originate. It is home to 125 mammal, 300 bird and a number of endemic or Red Data butterfly, fish and reptile species. The area is said to be one of the most important San rock art areas in South Africa. Tourism is the major source of income. People also farm cattle and grow crops, but are many are switching to game farming for ecotourism.

Cape winelands. Pic by Deon Maritz (www.flickr.com/photos/deonmaritz) under Creative Commons licence

Cape winelands. Pic by Deon Maritz (www.flickr.com/photos/deonmaritz). Creative Commons Attribution 2.0


CAPE WINELANDS

The Winelands biosphere reserve extends northwards from the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and includes the historic towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, in the Cape’s internationally famous wine-growing region. It protects areas of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The main economic activities include agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and forestry.

Giraffe in Kruger National Park. Pic from www.golimpopo.com

Giraffe in Kruger National Park. Pic from www.golimpopo.com

KRUGER TO CANYONS
This reserve covers nearly 2.5-million hectares and encompasses the Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Three of the Southern African biomes occur in the reserve: grasslands, Afro-montane forests, and savanna. Alongside the extensive tracts of conservation areas there are large, rural developing communities living on tribal land. Economic activities include mining for gold, phosphate and copper, forestry and fruits and vegetable farming.

Read more about biosphere reserves here.

Wanted: Research and publications officer

May 28, 2009
Posted in Business

Organisation: Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Project (SECCP), a project of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
Location: Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Type: Full-time
Application deadline: 29 May 2009
Gross Salary: R180,000.00 to R150,000.00 per annum, depending on experience

Job Description:
The SECCP is a progressive and campaign-orientated organisation specialising in energy and climate change issues, and with a history of solid and quality research. This position is to produce research materials that inform the SECCP’s campaigns and its policy positions, both nationally and internationally.

Key Tasks:
The production of primary research into energy and climate change issues
The production of briefing and campaign materials
Management of outsourced research
Assisting in the dissemination of this work

Essential Requirements:
Proven research skills and history
Fluency in written and spoken English
Ability to work to deadline and self-manage
Commitment to progressive and environmental politics
Solid understanding of basic physics, chemistry, economics and biology

To Apply:
Please send CV with letter of application (2 pages max.)
Please include three contactable references
Please provide a sample (no more than 1,500 words) of written work
Please send all materials to: seccp@earthlife.org.za

ALL APPLICANTS ARE STRONGLY ADVISED TO VISIT OUR WEBSITE (www.earthlife.org.za) BEFORE MAKING AN APPLICATION FOR THIS POSITION

Two ‘climate friendly’ urban developments for Gauteng

May 21, 2009
Posted in Green News

Artist's impression of the Menlyn Maine 'green' precinct to be built in Pretoria

Artist's impression of the Menlyn Maine 'green' precinct to be built in Pretoria

Two large-scale development projects in Gauteng – one in Johannesburg, one in Pretoria – are part of an international initiative to show that cities can grow in ways that are “climate positive”.

Anyone who drives between Joburg and Pretoria regularly could be forgiven for assuming that someone has decided that no clod of earth should be left unpaved between the two cities. News that moves are afoot to set “compelling environmental and economic examples” among all that concrete comes as something of a relief.

The two “climate positive” projects are Zonk’izizwe, a new town centre which will be situated between Gallagher Estate and Grand Central Airport in Midrand, and Menlyn Maine, which is described as a “mixed-used precinct” in the eastern suburbs of Waterkloof Glen Ext 2 and Menlyn Ext 3, Pretoria.

The projects are among the 16 founding projects of the Climate Positive Development Programme that will strive to reduce the amount of on-site carbon dioxide emissions to below zero and set an example for sustainable urban growth. The global initiative was announced this week by Bill Clinton, the former US president, at a four-day summit to discuss cities and climate change in Seoul, South Korea. The programme is a collaborative effort of the Clinton Climate Initiative and the US Green Building Council.

“As the Earth’s population increases and our cities grow, we need to ensure we have the models in place to sustain our way of life in an increasingly urbanised world,” Clinton said at the launch.

To reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of these projects to below zero, property developers and local governments will agree to look at implementing innovations in building; generating clean energy; waste management; water management; transport; and outdoor lighting systems.

Last year, for the first time, half the world’s population (3.2-billion people) lived in cities, and that figure is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050. Cities occupy just 2 percent of the world’s landmass, yet are responsible for more than two-thirds of global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. How cities change and grow is a critical component to tackling the climate crisis.

MENLYN MAINE

Artist's impression of Menlyn Maine's high-density residential space. The buildings will have energy and water efficiency systems as well as being connected to a fibreoptic network

Artist's impression of Menlyn Maine's high-density residential space. The buildings will have energy and water efficiency systems and will be connected to a fibreoptic network

The developers describe Menlyn Maine as South Africa’s first “green living precinct”. Built on 135,000 m2 of land, it will have offices, shops, restaurants, hotels, residences and entertainment facilities all within easy walking distance of one another to promote living, working and playing in a centralised area.

It is designed around ease of accessibility, says Anton van Wyk, managing director of Menlyn Maine Investment Holdings. “It removes useless hours spent in traffic, which makes more sense from an environmental perspective, and results in happier and more productive employees and customers.”

The development is also close to the new Gautrain rapid rail link between Pretoria and Johannesburg.

To bring some scenery and a breath of fresh air, parklands will run through the middle of the development, in all 5 700m² will be devoted to indigenous landscaping, say the developers.

The buildings will comply with the Green Star Rating System recently launched by South Africa’s Green Building Council. This means they will incorporate energy efficient systems, locally produced or recycled building products, and water saving appliances (such as low-flush loos), water-efficient irrigation systems and stormwater harvesting.

An added attraction is that Menlyn Maine will have an internal fibreoptic network link to every building in the precinct.

Construction has begun and the first commercial sites are due for completion in late 2010.

ZONK’IZIZWE TOWN CENTRE

The Zonk’izizwe (which means “all nations”) project is part of a high-density, mixed-use development planned around the new Gautrain station in Midrand, to the east of the N1 Ben Schoeman highway. (see map)

The 220-hectare development will be a new town centre between Johannesburg and Pretoria and will include a lake, parks, outdoor shopping, a hotel, museums, an aquarium, themed-adventure experiences, a nightlife village, multiplex cinemas as well as residential, office and retail space.

Sustainable development and “green” architecture feature prominently in the Zonk’izizwe design, with innovations like bio-water recycling/purification and solar power energy contributions, energy efficient strategies and a conservation ethic, says the Development Design Group Inc, the US-based planning, architecture and design group, on its website.

The development also aims to minimise its environmental impact by reducing vehicle-use. Buildings will have access to public transport, bicycle paths, the lake and be within walking distance of basic services.

With veg, timing is everything

April 17, 2009
Posted in Garden

cucumber-1
My “stick it in the ground and see what happens” style of growing vegetables has been surprisingly successful. Since I started in late November, I’ve grown green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, chillies, beetroot, cucumbers and broccoli.

cucumber-skin

Skin surprise: I grew two types of cucumber, both of which had spiky skins, completely unlike the kind you buy in supermarkets. The spikes washed off easily. I peeled them before eating and they tasted exactly like ... well, cucumbers.

The cucumber and broccoli I’m particularly proud of because I had no idea what to expect. Thanks to a misleading picture in a gardening book, I thought cucumbers grew on small trees. Happily, I’m a little less ignorant now.

It hasn’t all been blissfully easy, though. I’ve had to admit defeat with a few of the things I planted. For months I watched my watermelon and butternut plants form tiny baby fruits that just shrivelled and died. I tried to fortify the plants with worm tea and seaweed fertiliser, and great dollops of compost, but eventually their leaves developed a patina of grey fungus and I had to pull them up. A Malawian former subsistence farmer I know said that I had planted them too late – I should have done it in early October, not late November.

butternut

Infant mortality: My butternut plant grew many tiny baby butternuts like this one, but once the flower dropped off, the baby butternuts turned yellow and then shrivelled up

I’m amazed that two months would make such a difference. It’s a lesson in that seasonal food thing and, I suppose, that’s the way of nature: it just wasn’t their time. I’ll try planting them again in October this year and see what happens.

I lost the battle with the aphids on my beans as well. At first I could keep them under control by spraying them with a hose pipe, but the infestation got progressively worse. Spraying them with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water helped for a short while (thank you to the people who suggested this), but then I think the plant just got old and tired and the aphids took over. I decided euthanasia was the kindest option – and I didn’t want the aphids to spread to other parts of the garden. Once again, it’s the seasonal thing – plants seem to become more susceptible to pests at the end of their growing season.

fly-on-tomatoes

Beautiful stranger: I watched this fly-thingy with fascination as it poked a little spike at the back of its abdomen into my tomatoes. I tried to shoo it away but it kept coming back. It must have been laying eggs, because later white larvae crawled out of the tomato.

Then there’s the weather. My tomato plants were doing fabulously until the weather turned unusually British for a while in the middle of summer. The leaves turned yellow and blotchy. I frantically thumbed through gardening books to see if I could identify what was wrong. Like a hypochondriac reading a medical text book, I worried that I had a dread disease like potato blight and that I’d have to dig up everything and burn it all. Then a colourful fly-type thing started to lay eggs in my nearly ripe tomatoes. One morning, I watched a tiny white larvae, which must have been the fly’s progeny, crawl out of a tomato and fling itself onto my beetroot. Then little, red insects flew in en masse and ate great holes in my tomatoes. That was when I conceded defeat.

Probably the most useful factoid I read in my books, though, is that tomatoes don’t like getting their leaves wet, it apparently encourages fungus, so you have to water them from below. I’m beginning to believe that maybe it was the fortnight or so of drizzle and sunlessness that did them in. Even the man at my local nursery blamed the weather. “The plants don’t know if they’re coming or going,” he said when I asked him for advice on a magic potion that could cure my tomatoes. There was nothing to be done but start again. And, interestingly, the new plants that have grown up since that bad patch of weather all seem to be fine. I’m already getting a new crop of cherry tomatoes. And, so far, there are no insects.

But I’m waiting to see how long these new plants will last now the weather is getting colder and drier. I know now that there’s only so much you can learn about growing vegetables from a book. The only way to learn is to stick it in the ground and see what happens. It’s all about trial and error and, most of all, patience.

So if anybody reads this and knows (from their own trials and errors) what you can plant in Joburg in April and May. Please let me know.

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.

keep looking »