New wave of flamingo deaths worries scientists | WWF

New wave of flamingo deaths worries scientists

Posted on
13 June 2001
Nairobi, Kenya: The spectacular lesser flamingos in Kenya's Lake Bogoria and Lake Nakuru are dying yet again as scientists battle to establish the enigmatic cause of death.

A WWF team visiting Lake Bogoria, where most of the deaths are occurring, earlier this week found scores of dead birds strewn along the lake shores. Stray dogs and marabou storks were predating upon them.

Preliminary results of WWF�s surveillance at the two lakes over the past two months have revealed that flamingo deaths peaked towards the end of May, and now seem to be subsiding. A large number of sick birds can still be seen at both lakes.

During this week�s visit, WWF found several sick birds making weak and uncoordinated efforts to support themselves. A number of them were uncharacteristically �seated� in the water, and could hardly swim away when approached.

�There is no massive die-off as seen in 1993 and 1995, but clearly there are an inordinately large number of sick birds in the population,� says Dr Ramesh Thampy, WWF�s Rift Valley lakes� specialist in the Eastern Africa�s Regional Programme Office.

The new deaths come in the wake of a recent publication by a South African ornithologist, which says that the flamingo population in Africa has declined by 20 per cent in the last two decades. �Flamingos have been in existence for at least 50 million years, but if their numbers continue to decline by 20 per cent every two decades, we may lose the entire African population within 100 years,� cautions Dr Thampy. �There is an urgent need to get to the bottom of these recurring deaths and institute remedial actions.�

During the first en masse deaths in 1993, an estimated 40,000 birds died in the space of three months, while at least 20,000 flamingos died over a similar period during the second episode in 1995. Between 1997 and 2000, more deaths occuring sporadically were reported.

Since 1993, WWF�s Eastern Africa Office has collected and examined more than 100 sick and apparently healthy birds. According to the Principal Investigator, Dr Gideon Motelin, a veterinary pathologist at Egerton University in Njoro, not a single bird examined was found to have a healthy liver.

Previous analyses of bird tissue found nine heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc) and organochlorines in every sampled bird. �The lesions and other circumstantial evidence strongly suggests a Toxicosis as the cause of debility and death,� says Dr Motelin.

For more information, contact: Dr Ramesh Thampy RThampy@wwfeafrica.org