Al Wathba flamingo population booms — with a little help

Up from 200 last year, the terrestrial biodiversity team at the EAD has bred 420 chicks in the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, 30 minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi.
Four hundred and twenty flamingos were born in Al Wathba Wetland Reserve last year, up from 200 in 2014. Courtesy Dr Salim Javid / EAD
Four hundred and twenty flamingos were born in Al Wathba Wetland Reserve last year, up from 200 in 2014. Courtesy Dr Salim Javid / EAD

The birth of the birds, known for their caution in choosing breeding grounds, in Al Wathba Wetland Reserve surged last year thanks to the environment agency’s efforts.

ABU DHABI // The number of flamingos born last year doubled compared to 2014 after the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) created suitable nesting grounds for the pernickety birds.

The EAD’s terrestrial biodiversity team bred 420 flamingo chicks, up from 200 in 2014, in Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, a 30-minute car ride from Abu Dhabi city.

For more than two-and-a-half months, the team observed the birds and monitored the reserve to create an ideal environment for them.

“We had to adjust water levels to see where exactly we could get enough water for the birds to breed, while also making sure that no predators find a path to them, namely the red fox,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, the EAD’s executive director of the terrestrial and marine biodiversity sector.

Flamingos are known to err on the side of caution when choosing breeding grounds and will seldom attempt breeding if they perceive a threat.

The EAD tries to limit the dangers by managing what they call “the nesting island”. An EAD team increased the land size, monitored the water quality and ensured there were no natural bridges by which predators could get to the birds.

The balance between water quality and perceived threat is precarious and must be closely monitored. As the flamingos appeared in April last year, nests, in the shape of mounds built from sand, were a welcome sight for the EAD team in Al Wathba.

“We are extremely happy that our efforts to improve the nesting conditions have paid rich dividends in terms of the highest breeding of flamingos at Al Wathba to date,” said Dr Salim Javed, manager of terrestrial assessment and conservation at the EAD.

“We will continue to improve on-land management so that the area continues to encourage more birds to breed at the reserve.”

Dr Javed said the team did its best to strike a balance between mimicking natural processes and creating ideal breeding grounds.

Artemia salina, a species of brine shrimp, is the main food source for the greater flamingos, the largest members of the flamingo family, and the reason for their signature pink hue.

The EAD team times the hatching of the aquatic crustaceans with the arrival of the flamingos to ensure that the birds have enough brine shrimp to feed on.​

“The story behind the successful breeding is the continuous monitoring of water quality and ensuring the availability of food,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

“The other important reason is because we did some enhancement on the island.”

In the two weeks since the flamingos’ arrival in the middle of April last year, the EAD team witnessed 400 new mounds on the nesting island. A month later, the first of the 420 birds were born.

Other animal species found at Al Wathba include the greater spotted eagle, the red fox, the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard, and the newly discovered cuckoo wasps with metallic colours.

The greater flamingos are not deemed to be endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

However, the populations of greater flamingos are unstable because the birds are very particular about finding conducive breeding grounds. “Al Wathba is the only place where the birds breed on an annual basis, and this hasn’t happened in more than 50 years,” Dr Javed said.

Published: January 4, 2016 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one