21 February 2013

Namibia: Tracking Flamingos By Satellite for Conservation Action

THREE flamingos have been successfully fitted with sophisticated GPS satellite tracking devices at Mile 4 Saltworks near Swakopmund over the past month.

This milestone initiative is a key component of an innovative project to track the flight paths of flagship wetland bird species in order to address major conservation issues.

Large, charismatic birds such as flamingos and cranes are universally regarded as flagships for the conservation of wetland habitats. Unfortunately, these species cannot be confined to protected areas. Nomadic migratory species often encounter threats in unprotected areas, including collisions with overhead lines or snaring/hunting. As an aid to mitigating these problems, there is a need to determine the flight paths of such species so that potentially problematic areas can be identified and targetted for further conservation action.

The Flight Paths for Wetland Flagships project was initiated in 2012 by the NamPower/Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) Strategic Partnership, in cooperation with the Namibia Crane and Wetlands Working Group. The project is funded by the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) of Namibia, the Nedbank Go Green Fund and the above partnership.

Other collaborators include the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and many other organisations and individual supporters, both local and international. The project seeks to accomplish its aims by tracking the flight paths of greater flamingo and lesser flamingo, and the blue crane - all on the Red List; monitoring their numbers and breeding success, investigating the mitigation of power lines on documented flamingo flight paths and publicising the results to promote awareness of the plight of such flagship species.

In so doing, the results will have a ripple effect on environmental conservation in a broader sense, to the benefit of all inter-dependent wetland species, habitats and their human communities.

An adult greater flamingo was captured on January 9 at the Mile 4 Saltworks and fitted with a battery-powered GPS Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT). A second adult was fitted with a solar-powered GPS PTT on January 11, and an adult lesser flamingo with the latter type of device on January 17.

Transmitters of different designs, with different duty cycles, are being tested for optimum efficiency.

The birds were also ringed with a green plastic band with a unique code. Subsequent re-sightings of the birds in the same area indicated that they were in good health. The devices are now transmitting signals with detailed information that is picked up by satellite and relayed by Collected Localisation Satellites (CLS/Argos) in France, and downloaded regularly on the internet.

The latest GPS positions indicate that the birds are still on the salt pans at Mile 4 Saltworks but, as many flamingos are already showing signs of migrating inland to breed during the rainy season, larger-scale movements are anticipated in the near future. It is hoped that the flight paths that emerge will indicate focal areas for addressing potential interactions between flamingos and overhead lines.

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