Namibia turns to GPS technology to save endangered flamingo species

Three flamingos have been fitted with battery-powered GPS tracking devices at Mile 4 Saltworks near Swakopmund in Namibia to help determine their flight paths in efforts to address major conservation issues.

The Flight Paths for Wetland Flagships project aims to track the flight paths of greater flamingo and lesser flamingo, and the blue crane. All the three are on the Red List — species facing high risk of global extinction.

According to NamPower — among the organisations running the initiative, on January 9 an adult greater flamingo was captured at the Mile 4 Saltworks and fitted with a GPS Platform Terminal Transmitter (PTT). The second one was fitted with a solar-powered GPS PTT on January 11, and six days later an adult lesser flamingo was fitted with a similar device.

The birds were afterwards ringed with a green plastic band with a unique code.

The devices are at present transmitting signals with detailed information that is picked up by satellite and relayed by Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS/Argos) in France, which is then downloaded on a regular basis.

According to the latest GPS results, the flamingos are still on the salt plains at Mile 4 Saltworks, though many others are already showing signs of migrating inland to breed during the rainy season.

Larger-scale migrations are expected in the near future. It is also hoped that the flight paths will show focal areas for addressing potential interactions between flamingos and overhead lines.

Flamingos, which have proved difficult to confine to protected areas, are universally regarded as flagships for the conservation of wetland habitats. The migratory species often encounter threats in unprotected areas such as collisions with overhead lines or hunting.

“For the flamingos, this implies that their flight paths are not obstructed and do not pose undue risks to their populations during migrations,” Namibia Nature Foundation said.

The technology also monitors the species’ numbers and breeding, investigates the mitigation of power lines on documented flamingo flight paths and publicises the results to promote awareness of the hazards faced by such flagship species.

It is hoped the results will have a broad effect on environmental conservation to the benefit of the inter-dependent wetland species, habitats and their human communities.

The NamPower/Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) Strategic Partnership, in association with the Namibia Crane and Wetlands Working Group, started the project last year.

Apart from the two, the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) of Namibia and the Nedbank Go Green Fund are financing the project. Other players include the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

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