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Flamingos fate in the hands of Sol Plaatje Municipality

Kimberley 11/01/2018: An expert overview of the current situation with the Flamingos and Kamfers Dam by Mark D. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, BirdLife South Africa

Many people will know that Lesser Flamingos bred, during four consecutive years (about a decade ago), on a purpose built island at Kamfers Dam, Kimberley, South Africa. This was the first time that the species had bred on an artificial island, the first time (in recorded history) that the species had bred in South Africa, and essentially the fourth breeding locality globally for this species.

The island then very unfortunately flooded when the dam’s water level rose, and the layer of top soil (which the flamingos used to construct their nest turrets) washed away. The island was then unsuitable for breeding. Ekapa Mining, who built the original island at great expense, was not prepared to rehabilitate the island, as the landowner refused to commit to the conservation of Kamfers Dam.

It was a great surprise this summer when the flamingos started breeding in vast numbers along the south-western edge of the dam. It was estimated in early-November that 14,000 chicks could be produced from this breeding event (see the article in the January/February 2018 issue of African Birdlife magazine).

It is however now a pity that the water level at Kamfers Dam has dropped, and that the flamingos’ breeding turrets are no longer surrounded by water.

Fortunately, as was determined when aerial photographs were taken yesterday (10 January 2018), a large number of the flamingo chicks are large and mobile (yet still flightless). Flamingo chicks leave the nests when they are a few days’ old and join large creches. It is in fact not unusual for breeding areas to be left “high and dry” as pans/lakes dry up, and this is in fact often the case at Etosha Pan and Sua Pan, the two other breeding localities in southern Africa. The chicks will even “trek” long distances to the inundated areas of these large wetlands.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the recent breeding event, including incorrect statements both on social media and in newspapers. These include conflicting statements about water inflow, incorrect names such as “National Heritage Sight” (and not “Natural Heritage Site”), and what I’d consider to be poor (investigative) journalism. However, this tardiness should not detract from the key issues.

Also, it is ironic that the Department of Environment & Nature Conservation is now arguing that disturbance to the birds (work done by Ekapa Mining to an installation at the dam, and a distance from the breeding area) and reduced inflow of water is affecting the flamingos, matters which they refuted 10 years ago when both the Save the Flamingo Association and me (Mark Anderson) raised concerns about a proposed housing development and water quantity/quality issues which were detrimentally impacting on the dam’s flamingos.

The problems at Kamfers Dam, I believe, is squarely the result of the Sol Plaatje Municipality’s gross inability to address the water issues in Kimberley at Kamfers Dam. I understand that currently less than 15 ML of the c. 40 ML of water produced by Kimberley on a daily basis reaches the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works. The majority of this water is lost, and raw sewerage is flowing into the veldt and specifically into the previously pristine and biologically important Platfontein Pans. The Department of Environment of Nature Conservation (DENC) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) have known about this for many years and they should have taken the Municipality to task.

The Sol Plaatje Municipality is to blame for the current situation, and timeous action should have been taken to repair water pipes and pump stations, ensure that the sewage works is functional, and that a water management plan was developed and implemented (such as the plan developed by KweziV3 engineers about 15 years ago). It is surprising that both the appropriate water and nature conservation legislation has not been enforced by DENC and DWS,

Aerial photos taken of the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works on 10 January 2018 show that the sewage works is largely non-functional, and that raw sewerage is flowing into Kamfers Dam. This is supported by the analysis of samples taken at the water outflow a few weeks ago, which showed exceptionally high e coli levels. Kimberley’s “state of the art” sewage works, constructed at great cost to the taxpayer, is a white elephant and has not functioned properly for many years.

As Kamfers Dam still has sufficient water, it is highly likely that the flamingo chicks will successfully fledge. There are perhaps several thousand flamingo chicks in creches. There may be eggs and small chicks on the nesting turrets, and these will unfortunately succumb (but note that this regularly happens in natural situations at Sua Pan, Etosha Pan and probably also at Lake Natron).

It is VERY important that the flamingos (and especially the young flamingos) are not disturbed by birdwatchers, photographers, poachers, members of the public, etc.

It is also hoped that it will rain in the near future, and that Kamfers Dam will receive large volumes of water from its catchment area

The Save the Flamingo Association and other organisations (such as BirdLife South Africa) have worked hard to see that the threats to Kamfers Dam are addressed. This has been at great financial cost, an enormous amount of work, and also personal sacrifices. Three DENC staff, including me, were suspended when they raised concerns about threats to Kamfers Dam and its flamingos. DENC (including the MEC and HoD) were found to be in contempt of court, and lost their cases (with costs) in both the High Court and Supreme Court.

The future of Kamfers Dam and its flamingos are in hands of the Sol Plaatje Municipality and, if they consider the wetland and its birds to have ecotourism, economic, biological and conservation value, they must urgently ensure that sufficient water, of a suitable quality, flows into the dam.

Below are some photos taken yesterday (10 January 2018) of Kamfers Dam and its flamingos, and these show (a) that there’s still an extensive area of the dam under water, (b) the large number of flamingos present and (c) the large creches.

— Mark D. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, BirdLife South Africa


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