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Research Project on the Flamingos
of the Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana.

The Lesser flamingo (Phoenocopterus minor), although occurring in very large flocks, is threatened throughout it’s whole range due to it’s specialised and highly sensitive breeding and its dependence on a small number of breeding sites that are coming under increasing pressure from human related activities. This is true for the population of both Lesser and Greater flamingo (P. ruber) in southern Africa, which have declined in numbers by 35% over the last 15 years. There are only two important sites in the sub-continent where flamingos can breed in large numbers. Sua pan, part of the Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana is the most favoured of these sites. It is a dry salt pan for most of the year. However when the seasonal rains are good the pan becomes a vast shallow saline lake and an ideal habitat in which flamingos can feed and breed in great numbers. Very little is known about the basic ecological factors controlling the occurrence of breeding on this salt pan, and there are threats to the success of the breeding, from man-made disturbance in the area.

A project proposal has recently been compiled in Botswana by Graham McCulloch, who will carry out the research as part of a Ph.D. project with Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin. The main objectives of the project will be to identify and understand the basic ecology of the Makgadikgadi pans and how the hydrology, soils, topography and chemistry of the pans affect primary production and inturn the occurrence of breeding. Breeding success, when breeding occurs, will be monitored in order to determine the success rate. Any correlating occurrences, man made or naturally occurring which affect the success rate will be identified and monitored, with the aim of mitigating further threats and disturbances in the future. Other possible threats to the flamingo population will be monitored. These include the nearby electric power lines and veterinary cordon fences that cause countless deaths of wandering chicks and adults in flight. With these deaths comes an increase in the predators that feed on the dead carcasses and the consequential increased likelihood of both chick and adult predation. Possible threats due to the activities of a nearby soda ash factory, based on the shore of the main feeding grounds, will also be monitored in terms of their possible long term effects on the ecology of the flamingos. The research will provide the baseline monitoring programs and understanding that can be incorporated into future government management and conservation of the flamingos and the ephemeral wetland ecosystem of the Makgadikgadi itself. The research, finally, aims at understanding some of the movements and migratory patterns of the flamingos that visit the Makgadikgadi Pans in the rainy season, through ringing programs and satellite tracking. It is believed that flamingos migrate to the area from as far away east Africa, to feed and breed, which emphasises the importance of the Makgadikgadi for flamingo conservation in Africa. The project awaits sufficient funding before the ground work can begin.

If you would like to help in any way please contact;

Graham McCulloch at P.O. Box 173, Francistown Botswana.

Tel: 267-201079 Fax: 267-213458

e-mail: gmcculloch@info.bw