Pink ring safari ends in Lake Bogoria

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A Lesser Flamingo bearing a ring on its leg that was hatched in Lake Magadi in 1962 was recently recovered by a tourist – Nick Armour of England – in Lake Bogoria on 13th February, 2013. The information retrieved from the ring confirms that the dead bird lived for 50 years and almost four months, making it the oldest known living wild flamingo. Between 1961 and 1962 there were heavy rains and the soda mud flats of Natron were under water, making the site unsuitable for nest making or raising young. Thus the Lesser Flamingo breeding episode of that year was temporarily shifted to Lake Magadi in Kajiado County, Kenya. It was there that flamingo chicks were caught and ringed by members of the East Africa Natural History Society. Colin Jackson of the Ringing Scheme of East Africa said the recovered ring was one in a batch obtained from British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) by the Society. Of the 8,000 flamingos ringed, only ten recoveries have been made since 1962, notably one in West Africa – 6,197km away from Lake Magadi! The recovery of the 50-year-old flamingo emphasizes the connectedness of the soda lakes within the Great Rift Valley. The 1.5–2.5 million pink birds in Eastern Africa roam the soda lakes in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia in search of food. However the only regular breeding site for these birds is Lake Natron in Tanzania. The lake is largely covered by soda, raising the surface temperatures up to 60 degrees that keeps away mammalian predators from the nesting sites. However, there is abundant food and fresh water springs relied upon for drinking and washing off soda from the feathers of flamingos. Based on a detailed account by Leslie Brown and Alan Root in the International Journal of Avian Science – IBIS, at least 850,000 young were hatched in Magadi in 1962, although a high rate of mortality was noted. Adult flamingos would fly to Lake Natron to obtain food, usually coming back in the evening to feed the chicks. The chicks faced predators such as hyenas, vultures and jackals. Hindrance of movement and sometime death also resulted from soda-saturated water that formed anklets around the chicks’ legs, growing to the size of an apple. Twenty-seven thousand chicks had the anklets removed by a team of volunteers including the late Leslie Brown, Alan Root (a wildlife filmmaker), the British Army, members of the East Africa Natural History Society and even Evelyn Baring (Governor of Kenya, 1952-59). Children who were away from school owing to a teachers’ go slow were also part of the team. Another 200,000 chicks were saved from the super-alkaline water by driving them into areas with fresher water pumped into the soda flats by Magadi Soda Company. Wellington boots donated by Bata Shoe Company protected the volunteers’ feet from the biting soda as they rescued and ringed the birds. Bird ringing or banding involves carefully capturing birds, conducting and recording various measurements such as body weight, length of the beak, tarsus and wings as well as feather condition. Just before the bird is released, a ring, either plastic or metallic, is attached to one of the legs. The ring contains a distinct number accompanied with the name of the specific ringing scheme.

This is carried out by trained experts or volunteers. Members of the public are encouraged to write down the number of any rings they may find and contact the National Museums of Kenya or the nearest conservation agency. The information obtained provides more understanding about the movements and life history of birds, useful to draw up appropriate conservation measures especially for threatened bird species.