Large colony of flamingos found

For the first time in the UAE, the greater flamingo has been found breeding in large numbers in the wild.

A new breeding colony of the Greater flamingo recently discovered by a team of biologists within the Bu Al Siaief Marine Protected Area.
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ABU DHABI // It sounds like a bird-watcher's dream. For the first time in the UAE, the greater flamingo has been found breeding in large numbers in the wild. But don't even think of going to look at them. Wildlife experts warn that an influx of curious humans would probably drive the flamingos away. The colony of 18,000 birds, including 800 chicks, was discovered in April. The announcement was delayed because of concerns that curious visitors might scare the flamingos away, said Dr Salim Javed, the deputy manager of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD).

"People are enthusiastic and their intention is not to disturb the birds," Dr Javed said. But if human activity were to increase, the birds could abandon the area. "Flamingos are very sensitive breeders," he said. "Any kind of human activity might affect them, especially during their breeding period." The colony was discovered in an intertidal area close to Abu Dhabi city. The colony, near the Musaffah Channel, is the largest in the UAE and possibly the Arabian peninsular, experts said. The discovery was made by EAD scientists during routine monitoring.

Besides the number of birds enough to put the site on the world map for conservationists the discovery is significant because it shows flamingos breeding outside their usual habitat. The birds normally prefer the shores of the Caspian Sea and other parts of Central Asia. Flamingos usually winter in the UAE but do not breed here. Flamingos are only known to have bred twice in the UAE, said Majid al Mansouri, the EAD's secretary general. "The first time was almost a decade ago at Abu Dhabi's Al Wathba Wetland Reserve and the second time was in Shahama."

The birds, said Dr Javed, can breed year-round but usually prefer the cooler months, from November to February or March. Since the discovery, the EAD has been monitoring the area. The number of birds has remained high with around 10,000 of them staying throughout the summer. So far the colony has been undisturbed. Bu al Siaief, where it was discovered, is restricted to people. But plans for industrial development in the area could affect the colony. It is near the upcoming Abu Dhabi Industrial City and other important projects.

The area where the colony lives is not protected by law. The EAD has submitted a proposal to ensure the birds remain undisturbed but it remains to be seen how this can be reconciled with the economic interests in developing the area. "This discovery ... highlights the urgency with which such areas need to be protected, as rapid development engulfs the coastal areas of Abu Dhabi, particularly in the coastal area of Musaffah," said Mr al Mansouri.

Dr Javed said: "It is a very important tidal habitat. This is one of the best such habitats, located close to Abu Dhabi." The EAD is collaborating with the Urban Planning Council on coastal profiling of areas earmarked for protection within the Abu Dhabi capital area. Meanwhile, people who are keen to get a glimpse of a flamingo chick should head for Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort. It recently welcomed three new arrivals to its 4,300-strong animal family with the birth of a white-bellied bustard and two Chilean flamingos.

Native to temperate climates of South America, the flamingos can grow as large as 130cm and are closely related to the flamingos of the UAE. Wild flamingos can be seen in the mangrove forests of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Khor Kalba. These birds are listed as "near threatened" because of habitat loss and pollution. The Chilean flamingos are an eye-catching species varying in colour from pale to dark pink which changes depending upon the diet of the bird.

Visitors can catch a glimpse of the white-bellied bustard chick with its mother in the aviary with the grey parrot, near the popular gibbon exhibit. The flamingos can be seen near the main entrance. Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort's collection of birds represents a selection of the wild species found in the UAE. Flamingos and bustards are threatened by habitat destruction and pollution.