Lesser Flamingos turning up in unexpected places, including sewage treatment plants

Water levels continue to rise in the Rift Valley lakes. As a result, the alkalinity of some of the lakes is dropping. Changes in the lakes’ chemistry are causing a shift in the ecology of alkaline lakes, whose pH levels have decreased. The adjacent terrestrial habitats have also been affected, with large portions submerged in water. This impacts the carrying capacity for larger mammals in small, fenced protected areas like Lake Nakuru National Park.

Birds are key indicator species of changes in the environment. During the January waterbird census, large flocks of flamingos were observed at the oxygenation ponds in Nakuru, and a smaller flock at the Dandora sewage treatment plant in Ruai, Nairobi. This suggests that flamingos are seeking alternative habitats because of reduced food supply in the alkaline lakes.

At the Nakuru Sewage Treatment plant sitting adjacent to Lake Nakuru, more Lesser Flamingos were observed than on Lake Nakuru itself. Out of the total 6,000 Lesser Flamingos counted on both the ponds and the lake, 4,000 birds were recorded at the sewage treatment ponds. The Dandora treatment ponds recorded 40 Lesser Flamingos.

Waste stabilization ponds are well-suited for the tropics thanks to the high intensity of the sunlight and high temperatures which are important in the wastewater treatment processes. If other counties work towards achieving efficient wastewater treatment processes, especially for the urban centres, there could be alternative feeding habitat for Lesser Flamingos in times of crisis.

During January, Lesser Flamingos have also been reported on Lake Ol’Bolossat – a freshwater lake in Nyandarua County – in Amboseli National Park, on Athi Dam in Nairobi National Park, and on Lake Simbi Nyaima, Nyangweso Irrigation scheme and Ondago swamp in Homa Bay county.

The Waterbird census should be conducted consistently at traditional counting sites and observers should report opportunistic feeding areas for Lesser Flamingos in the country.