The southern African population of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus has undergone declines of greater than 40% over the past three generations. Unfortunately, there are no data to support similar trends within the regional population although it is suspected to be approaching the 30% threshold qualifying this species as regionally Near Threatened.
Widely distributed in Africa and the southern Palearctic (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Occurs in southern Europe and east across the Arabian Peninsula and Iran to south-east Asia. In Africa, found along the North and West African coasts to Senegal in the west, and south along the Red Sea Coast and Rift Valley to coastal Angola and South Africa (Brown et al. 1982). Fairly widespread in southern Africa, where common on central plateau; common along the West Coast where it is frequently recorded at estuaries and other coastal wetlands, but rare on the East Coast (Williams and Velásquez 1997, Simmons 2005). It is a vagrant to Swaziland (Parker 1994) and a potential vagrant to Lesotho (Osborne and Tigar 1990). In South Africa, important numbers have been recorded at the following wetlands: Lake St Lucia (KwaZulu-Natal), Leeupan/Barberspan (North West), Kamfers Dam (Northern Cape) and Langebaan Lagoon, Strandfontein Sewage Works and the Berg River Estuary (Western Cape) (Taylor 1999, Anderson 2000a, 2000b). The Greater Flamingo has probably benefited from an increase in human-made habitats, such as salt works, sewage works and large impoundments.
The global population has been estimated at c. 800 000 birds (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The African population was estimated at 165 000 in 1975 (Kahl 1975), decreasing to 85 000 in the mid-1990s. The most recent estimate is 115 000 in 2005 (Simmons 2005). These suggested decreases are in contrast to the increasing populations in Europe (Johnson and Durand 2001). The resident population in southern Africa has been estimated at 50 000-60 000 birds (Dodman and Taylor 1995, Simmons 1996, Simmons 2005), but up to 40 000 pairs have been recorded breeding on occasion at Sua Pan, Botswana, (McCulloch 2001) and up to 27 000 pairs at Etosha Pan, Namibia (Berry 1972). Has successfully bred at Sua Pan during recent years, with the following numbers of breeding pairs: 16 761 (2007/8), 36 986 (2008/9), 15 695 (2009/10) and 13 465 (2010/11) (G McCulloch pers. comm.). Large numbers have been reported at times in southern Africa, such as 650 000-1 000 000 birds at Lake Ngami in 1971 and c. 300 000 birds at Makgadikgadi in 1974 (Dawson and Jacka 1975). Movements within the region are erratic and largely driven by environmental conditions such as rainfall resulting in difficulties in providing an estimate of the number of birds in the region at any one time. No regional population estimate is available.
The global population is on the increase, although this is largely driven by growth in the European population (BirdLife International 2014). Simmons (1996) suggested a 40% decline in the population of Greater Flamingos in southern Africa during the 1980s to mid-1990s, attributable to low recruitment (Simmons 1996) and soda ash and salt mining at breeding localities (Connor 1980, Aves 1992). Unfortunately no recent population trends for the region are available, but previously suggested threats persist which may indicate that the southern African population is continuing to decline. There is considerable uncertainty regarding the regional population and no data are available to support a population trend.
Threats include soda-ash mining around the main breeding site at Sua Pan, collisions with fences and overhead power-lines in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and lowered water tables around the feeder rivers to Etosha Pan (Williams and Velásquez 1997, Simmons 2005). Hot-air balloons, low-flying aircraft, Marabou Storks Leptoptilos crumeniferus and raptors can cause nest desertion and subsequent failure of breeding attempts. (Berry 1972, Brown et al. 1982, Simmons 2005). Rapidly declining water levels reduce food supplies and increase predation risk, leading to mass mortality as well as failure of breeding attempts (Berry 1972, Fox et al. 1997, Simmons 2005).
The Greater Flamingo has successfully bred on an artificial island in France (Johnson 1989), with similar structures being proposed but not implemented in southern Africa (Simmons 1996). About 100 chicks were produced in 2009/2010, on a purpose-built S-shaped island constructed in Kamfers Dam, Kimberley to encourage breeding in Lesser Flamingos (Anderson and Anderson 2010).
Key feeding and breeding sites should be identified, protected and monitored. Anthropogenic threats need to be addressed, including marking of power-lines with suitable marking devices to prevent nocturnal collisions. The reconstruction of the Kamfers Dam Lesser Flamingo breeding island would also benefit Greater Flamingos.
* Understanding of temporal and spatial use of ephemeral wetlands for feeding and breeding, and protection of key sites is important.
* Long-term monitoring of population numbers at key sites should be undertaken, owing to the exceptional fluctuations in breeding success, potential destruction of habitat and unintentional incidental mortality.
* Satellite tracking to determine movements within southern Africa and between southern and East Africa would be very informative.
* Long-term data sets of flamingo breeding data from Etosha and Sua pans, to determine the effects of rainfall and climate change on long term population trends, should be analysed and published.