By now most of us have heard that there appears to be a problem with our flamingo population. Many chicks and juveniles have been found in distress; malnourished, dehydrated or killed by cars.
The flamingo is one of the signature birds on Bonaire; one that tourists seek out and locals never tire of seeing. Bonaire plays an important role in the worldwide flamingo population as the island is one of four breeding grounds in the Americas along with two breeding areas in Africa. The Pekelmeer, under the management of Cargill, is the major breeding ground for the flamingos on Bonaire and is a protected sanctuary where tourists are not allowed.
Every year we hear news about juvenile flamingos, found or rescued, that have been carried away by strong winds or who have wondered off and can’t find their way back, but this year the numbers of young birds in distress seem to be much higher than normal.
Elly Albers, owner of the Mangrove Center, is also the founder of Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab and was asked after an oil spill in 2017 to take care of the flamingos affected by the spill.
Needing more information and special knowledge, Elly reached out to the well-connected bird shelters in the Netherlands and was able to get a knowledgeable specialist to visit the island and assist her in the care needed.
150 birds in only 8 weeks
This year the birds found wandering alone and clearly in bad condition have been brought to the Wild Bird Rehab.
Within only 8 weeks, 150 young flamingos have found their way to the Rehab. The Rehab needed to expand drastically to house and help this vast number of birds.
Why are there so many?
The reason the numbers seem to be skyrocketing is not known and only speculations can be made. Serious research would be needed to find out if this is a one-time incident or a serious problem that needs continuous attention and aid.
People in the field of nature and protection suggest it could be:
- Late rainy season
This year the rainy season started very late and lasted much longer than in average years. The flamingos need specific breeding and feeding conditions which were disturbed and the low tide made it difficult to find sufficient food.
The influx of the brown seaweed that lasted from December, 2017, until March, 2018, was, and is, a serious threat to much of the wildlife on Bonaire, killing fish nurseries and food for the flamingos.
- Flamingo parents killed
Many adult flamingos will fly off to Venezuela to feed when food sources are scarce on the island. Since Venezuela’s people are in a serious crisis, many birds are shot to be eaten. When the parents do not come back, the young birds are left unattended.
- Flamingo rescue new to many
Publications about what to do and who to call have just recently become commonplace. As a result, the overall population is more aware and many now take action which could make the numbers seem to grow.
These are all speculations, but the people involved find the numbers alarming and feel research should be done to rule out any bigger crisis.
Who is in charge?
- STINAPA is in charge of RAMSAR areas and has made part of the expansion of the Rehab possible. It is also one of the rescue phone numbers you can call in case you find a flamingo.
- OLB is officially in charge of the flamingos’ protection and wellbeing as stated by STINAPA. In a recent meeting with the governor, Edison Rijna, he voiced his concern and promised to contact STINAPA to discuss further actions.
- Cargill, who manages the sanctuary property, has approached the Wild Bird Rehab and asked for a list of needed materials, etc.
Who else is helping?
Since Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab is a foundation funded only by donations, help is urgently needed. Many private citizens and businesses have offered their help, which made all the efforts up until now possible, but more aid is needed. The bird feed alone costs around $500 a week!
- At the Bondigro supermarket, close to the cash register, you will find a display where you can donate. Bondigro has also promised pay for the shipping without charge.
- Wageningen, the independent Dutch university that will have major involvement in the new Algae Parc Research project, has been approached and might assist in the future.
- KLM has been approached to help with air transportation.
- Dutch Bird rescue organizations will assist with their broad knowledge on any question that may arise.
The Bird Rehab officially opened at the end of May, 2018.
Right now the Bird Rehab houses about 44 chicks and juvenile flamingos.
Since the Rehab had such a high return number after release (about1/4 were returned within a week), they have been advised to keep the juveniles longer, until they are able to fly and completely feed themselves.
The high tide has begun again and will bring the small shrimp that flamingos feed on and gives them their beautiful color, hopefully with fewer malnourished chicks and juveniles.
A blood centrifuge has been ordered to examine the condition of a bird, a very important piece of equipment to be able to help the birds and release them at the right time.
Markers have been ordered to mark the birds helped in the Rehab and to collect data for the future.
What can we do?
When you drive, drive carefully!
When you find a flamingo, this is what has been advised by STINAPA:
When does a flamingo need to be rescued?
If the flamingo flies away when you approach, it does not need to be rescued.
If it does not fly away, or only flies a few feet away and looks exhausted, it most likely needs to be rescued, unless it is a very young flamingo in a safe place such as Cargill or Gotomeer. Young flamingos cannot find the right food in the mangroves or in Sorobon.
Number to call (if the first is unavailable, work down the list).
* FKK Contact: +599 7808020
* Dierenberscherming Contact: +599 7967000
* STINAPA Contact: +599 777-2018/787-0984
Info to be collected:
When you call, give the following info:
* Exact location of flamingo: approximate distances north/south of certain landmarks/dive sites.
* Color of bird – juvenile/adult?
* Time you first noticed the bird.
* Behavior of the bird.
* Other obvious problems (broken wing, exhausted, wrapped in line, etc.).
If possible, stay with the flamingo until help arrives, but do not approach, take pictures, make noise near the bird or talk to the bird.
No Volunteers needed
The Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab is grateful to have so many volunteers offering their time to care for the birds. Every day from early morning to late afternoon volunteers help feed and clean at the center. Since the birds recognize people, the Rehab tries to work with the same people as much as possible.
What will help the most are monetary donations to ensure any future activities needed to assist the flamingos. You can do this at:
- Mangrove Center, account 4101014 at the MCB Bank on Bonaire, stating ‘rehab’ as the reason.
- Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab will have its own bank account soon. Please check for updates on Facebook: Bonaire Wild Bird Rehab