Phoeniconaias (Phoenicopterus) minor
Most people are probably familiar with flamingoes, of which there are altogether six species on the planet. Two species occur in South Africa. In this edition of DeWetsWild we’ll showcase the Lesser Flamingo, and in the next installment we’ll cover the Greater Flamingo.
Lesser Flamingoes inhabit shallow, nutrient-rich, wetlands that may include salt pans, saline lakes, mudflats, tidal lagoons and even sewage treatment plants. They feed exclusively on cyanobacteria, better known as blue-green algae, syphoning it from the shallow water in typical flamingo fashion. They can cover enormous distances migrating mostly at night between suitable water bodies at an average speed of 60km/h. They’re regularly found in association with Greater Flamingoes at the same locations.
Lesser Flamingoes breed exclusively on salt pans and saline lakes, forming breeding colonies of several thousand monogamous pairs, each of which builds a mound of mud up to 40cm high and surrounded by water (as protection against land-based predators) to use as a nest, usually coinciding with the rainy season. The parents take it in turns to incubate the single egg (rarely two) for a month, with the chick leaving the nest and joining a creche within 6 days of hatching. Though the chicks can fly by the time they’re 3 months old the parents continue to feed the chick on a secretion from their gastrointestinal tract for several months. Fully grown they stand almost a meter tall, with a similar wingspan, and weigh approximately 2kg.
The IUCN classifies the Lesser Flamingo as being near threatened, siting a declining population and threats to important breeding sites. At the latest estimates their population stood at between 2.2 and 3.4-million distributed from the Indian Subcontinent, through the south of the Arabian Peninsula, to East Africa and on to southern Africa, with smaller populations around Lake Chad and in West Africa. There is evidence of considerable movement between populations, even over thousands of kilometres. In South Africa there’s concentrations of this species in the Western Cape, on the Highveld, and at Lake St. Lucia, though their only regularly used breeding colony in our country is at Kamfers Dam outside Kimberley and susceptible to pollution and human encroachment.