‘No Flamingo Chick Will Be Left Behind’

By Vanessa Papas: The last few days has called for ‘all hands on deck’. A massive rescue initiative is underway to save the lives of hundreds of baby flamingos that have hatched on the Kamfers Dam in Kimberley. The babies have been left to fend for themselves after the dam all but dried up and many of the adults were forced to leave the area in search of water.  When a rescue team arrived on the scene, they were faced with the devastation of a dam literally baked dry with empty nests, deserted eggs, dead chick carcasses and dead adult flamingos. Among the bodies were countless dehydrated and starving chicks still clinging to life.

On Friday a total of 900 chicks were collected after an intervention by Netwerk24, a hero in Pretoria, the SPCA, and Saam Staan Kimberley (plus the generosity of a mining company). The rescued chicks were housed by the SPCA in Kimberley and then put on a flight to Wonderboom airport. These chicks arrived at their final destination later that afternoon – the home of private investigator Mike Bolhuis. Bolhuis is a bird lover who has a large collection of exotic birds on his smallholding at Leeufontein outside Pretoria. Bolhuis has several dams on his smallholding and currently has 120 flamingos, which includes 110 large flamingos and ten small flamingos. He says he is in a good position to help and is willing to take care of as many baby chicks as is needed. In addition to the above 900 chicks, over the next couple of weeks the team expect to receive an additional 2000 to 3000 chicks.

“Leaving these chicks to die is a blatant crime. The situation could have and should have been prevented but it has escalated due to human error. To date, this has been the largest project I have ever been involved with and I have worked with several huge cases in the past. It has been a mammoth task but the support we have received has been overwhelming,” says Bolhuis.  “The project started last week Thursday. A mining company offered to fly the chicks from Kimberly to Pretoria. Miraculously only one chick perished during the flight. That to me, in itself, was a miracle. I transformed my gym into a bird nursery. The caring process has been intense. The chicks need to be fed every three to four hours and the environment has to be completely sterile. We have volunteers of around 20 to 40 people assisting at all times. These volunteers include vets from Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, members of Montecasino Bird Gardens and various other wildlife and bird rehab centres. So many people have gotten on board. I am paying for everything but I am being supported by members of the public. We still have a long way to go but the first phase of this project is rescuing the chicks that are in immediate danger. My goal is to leave no chick behind.”

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Kamfers Dam is a privately-owned dam that has seen periods of being a completely dry pan. However, the water level has risen in considerably recent years due to the runoff from the ever-growing city of Kimberley, making it a veritable wetland and an attractive nesting site for flamingos. The reservoir covers some 400 hectares and has become an attractive home for thousands of lesser flamingos and one of only four breeding sites in Africa. The dam harbours high concentrations of blue-green algae and diatoms, both of which form the main food sources for these flamingos. The dam typically supports 20,000 lesser flamingos, but occasionally over 50,000 lesser flamingos, a large proportion of the subregion’s total population.

A submerged pump driven by solar panels usually delivers water to four ponds where the flamingos can collect clay to build the nest turrets. A thousand artificial nest turrets were constructed in the hope that flamingos would settle on the island, and within weeks some 10,000 birds arrived. These birds departed for winter but a larger flock of some 20,000 returned in September 2007 and commenced breeding over the midsummer months, ignoring the man-made turrets and building their own. Lesser Flamingos are smaller and paler than its contemporaries and are classified as being “Near Threatened”, making it vital that they be provided with a safe environment in which to live. Sadly, this wetland is constantly under threat by urbanisation and pollution.

As far back as October 2016, Birdlife South Africa launched a petition calling on the Sol Plaatje Municipality and the Northern Cape provincial government to urgently address the issues which were threatening the dam and its world-famous flamingos. That same month, warnings were once again issued that the flamingos were under dire threat. Plaatje responded by saying that the municipality was working on the water pipeline to supply water to the dam. He said they expected the repairs of pipelines to be done in at least two months. More than two years have since passed.

A report by journalist Brian Culver on 9 January this year re-highlighted the pleas of the Department of Environmental and Nature Conservation to maintain sustainable water levels on the pan at least until the chicks were mature enough to fly and fend for themselves. At the time of the report there were already thousands of abandoned turrets and eggs due to the lack of water and the severe heat being experienced.

“People were spotted around the nesting sites carrying heavy sticks, no doubt with the intent to club the defenceless chicks,” writes Culver in his online report. “If the island was operational and water levels maintained, this disaster could have been prevented. The silly impasse concerning a conservancy being declared should be forgotten and the plight of the flamingos should be top priority by those with the power and resources to do something about getting the island operational again. This current disaster is highlighting the urgency of the situation.”

Some people blame local mines for the dam drying up, which withdraw water from the water purification plant in Homevale, others like Mark Anderson CEO of BirdLife South Africa believe that Plaatje municipality is solely responsible for the disaster. More than 25,000 m³ of 30,000 m³ of water, which is supposed to flow to the purification plant daily is lost, due to leaks and pipes that have been destroyed in a field near Platfontein. According to Sello Matsie, municipal spokesperson, repair work is currently taking place, but will only be completed in a few months’ time. Meanwhile, flamingos are dying by the hundreds.

How Readers Can Help

The diet of birds is terribly sensitive as they are accustomed to a kind of ‘mother’s milk’ coming from the parents’ body. As soon as they are out of danger, they will hopefully be able to feed themselves. In the meanwhile, readers can assist by donating towards the care of these babies:

Account name: M.L. BOLHUIS
Branch: STANDARD BANK
Account number: 41 410 536 2
Code: 014845
SWIFT CODE; SBSBZAZAJJ
Reference: Flamingos

According to a post on Facebook, the following is also needed in Pretoria:

Heating lamps, feeding tubes, food processors, containers and trays, cooling fans. Pet food suppliers that can assist with BEEFEE, CALSUP AND PETFLEX, NESTUM BABY CERIAL no. 1, as well as various vitamins / medicines, F10 (cleaning material/disinfectant).

Pictures: Mike Bolhuis

Videos: Supplied

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