While there are still over three million lesser flamingos worldwide, their existence is increasingly threatened by the piss-poor conditions of the lakes they rely on for survival.
The vast majority of the remaining lesser flamingos, the smallest species of flamingo, live in sub-Saharan Africa. They thrive in alkaline lakes, such as Kenya’s Lake Bogoria, where their preferred food source—the phytoplankton Arthrospira fusiformis—is found in the water. This carotenoid-heavy molecule is also responsible for the flamingos’ distinctive pink coloring.
But all is not well in these African lakes, which are so saline because they don’t have any outflows, and thus don’t filter as efficiently as lakes along rivers. Their physical and chemical characteristics are changing dramatically for the worse as sewage pollution, mining waste, and other human impacts make them less habitable for the growth of Arthrospira fusiformis. Furthermore, large numbers of the flamingos are exposed to chemicals like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, which have proven fatal to thousands of the birds.
The flamingos also rely on the lakes as a breeding ground, and if these changes continue unabated, their ability to reproduce could come into question.
To change this unfortunate trajectory, local conservationists recommend stronger conservation policies and better environmental oversight.
Flamingos are stunningly beautiful birds. It would be a devastating loss if Africa’s lesser flamingos disappeared from the lakes they’ve called home for generations.