Published: Saturday 15 April 2000

  Flamingoes struggle to survi Environmentalists are concerned about reports that flamingoes living in Lake Bogoria in the Great Rift Valley are facing grave threats because of irresponsible dumping of untreated industrial effluents. Although about a million flamingoes live in this otherwise nearly dead lake, hundreds are dying because of this contamination. Carcasses of the birds were found carrying high levels of heavy metals mostly from industrial and pesticide runoffs.

David Harper, a biologist from the University of Leicester in England, has been keeping a count of the carcasses. According to Harper, flamingoes dying around Lake Bogoria had spent most of their lives at the larger and shallower Lake Nakuru, situated around 100 kilometres from Bogoria.

Nakuru is the first bird sanctuary in Africa and it is also a national park. But Lake Nakuru rests at the bottom of a 3,108 square kilometre catchment area and it has no outlet. The lake absorbs runoffs not only from hundreds of neighbouring farms -- some of which still use the banned pesticide Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane ( ddt ) -- but also the effluents from the adjoining city with a population of 360,000.

Further, heavy metals found in the flamingo carcasses -- mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead and chromium -- largely correspond to the effluents discharged from an Eveready Battery factory, a tannery and an electroplating factory besides other such industries in the area.

According to Gideon Moletin, a professor at Kenya's Egerton University and an expert on flamingoes, the bird is "stressed" even by the most ordinary activities common to waterfowl -- flying and swimming.

Their feeding habits have also been adversely effected. The flamingoes feed on a blue-green algae called spirulina which thrives only in water that has 0.6-0.94 per cent salinity. Almost 80 per cent of flamingoes are found in Africa's Great Rift Valley because volcanic activity in the region sustains a string of soda lakes. The birds preferred Lake Nakuru till 1997 when the El Nio rains diluted its salinity and hence checked the growth of spirulina. The flamingoes then moved on to Bogoria.

But in Bogoria, the birds performed none of the usual activities like the famous mating dance. Apparently they had not bred since 1997. This could be because they had lost the strength to journey to Lake Natro in Tanzania, where they lay eggs on an island beyond the reach of predators.

Given the rate at which the flamingoes are falling victim to environmental neglect, the Kenyan will have to act fast to check unsustainable commercial activities to save the birds.

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