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The Lesser Flamingo is the most numerous of the flamingo species, numbering 2 - 4 million. However, in the IUCN Red List of threatened species, the species is listed as “Near Threatened” across its entire range. In addition, the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement lists it as a population in decline throughout southern Africa, where its population is currently estimated at approximately 65,000.
The vulnerable status of Lesser Flamingos in southern Africa has been attributed, primarily, to the lack of breeding sites and their sensitivity to both natural and anthropogenic disturbance during breeding.
The Makgadikgadi saltpan complex, in northern Botswana, comprises one of the most important habitats for Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) in southern Africa. Seasonal flooding on the pans generates vast shallow wetlands, in which an abundant food supply, in the form of cyanobacteria and diatoms, exists.
In addition, Sua pan, the lowest part of the wetland complex, comprises one of only three sites in the whole of Africa where Lesser Flamingos breed successfully on a regular basis.
In 1998, Graham McCulloch began a PhD research project at Sua Pan to gather valuable information on the important and, at that time, poorly understood ecological components and functions of the Makgadikgadi wetland ecosystem, on which the southern African population of Lesser Flamingos depend. The work included a detailed look at the feeding and breeding habits of the flamingos that migrated there every wet season.
The importance of Makgadikgadi for flamingos from all over the region was also highlighted through a satellite-tracking project that tracked the movements of three Lesser Flamingos from Sua Pan to various wetlands in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. This research greatly improved our knowledge of the feeding and breeding ecology of Lesser Flamingos on Sua Pan.
In July 2005, Graham joined Birdlife Botswanas efforts to strengthen conservation and management efforts on and around the Makgadikgadi wetlands, one of Botswanas main IBAs, for the benefit of both its important bird species like the Lesser Flamingo and the local communities living around the Makgadikgadi. Activities such as monitoring the Lesser Flamingo feeding conditions and its population and breeding success, and ringing exercises continue annually as part of a long-term monitoring programme.
Through a three-year BLB project, funded by the Swedish Biodiversity programme, efforts are also currently underway to strengthen an existing site support group (SSG), at the Nata Bird Sanctuary, to improve the relationships between Lesser Flamingos and other bird species on Sua Pan and the local communities. The aim of the SSG will be to test ways of using biodiversity sustainably to improve local livelihoods, and securing the conservation of Lesser Flamingos, among other species, through long-term capacity building, advocacy and community support activities.