The feathered celebrities of Mannar – the majestic flamingos have arrived! During the migrant birds season, flamingos are known to migrate from their country to Sri lanka due to several reasons including food availability, weather, and also to select breeding pairs. Within these migrant birds, the rarest and most sensitive bird is the flamingo and currently, they have all flocked to Mannar. Migrant season has always been an exciting time for visitors, who get an unparalleled opportunity to view, marvel, study, and photograph at leisure the graceful and stately flamingos that spend more than five months in the wetlands of Mannar. There are also rumours that the year-round presence of flamingos indicates that they will remain in Sri Lanka beyond the migratory season as summer loiterers. We spoke to some experts to find out more.
Brunch spoke to former wildlife range officer and naturalist Marynathan Edison, who is located in Mannar, to learn more about this magnificent feat. Edison told us that the flamingos come to Sri Lanka from the German and the Netherlands borders in Europe. Flamingo colonies that breed near high-altitude basins move to warmer regions during winter because the lakes and reservoirs may freeze over. Food shortage or difficult living conditions in their living areas also insinuate migration.
The birds arrive in November to beat the winter season, and generally stay until April. He added that not only do they migrate to Sri Lanka, but they also migrate to Pakistan and India. “At the same time, they prefer to come to Sri Lanka because of the abundance of shrimps we have for them to eat in our wetlands,” noted Edison.
He informed us that right now, there are about 5,000 flamingos in Mannar, but he has seen a clear fluctuation in numbers over the years. “In 2012, there were 12,000 flamingos, but then it reduced to 1,500, then 7,000, then for two years, we didn’t see any flamingos and now it’s at 5,000 flamingos,” he commented, adding that the reason behind this is yet to be determined.
Edison also told us that these birds don’t breed in Sri Lanka; instead, they look for potential mates and only breed once they are back in their home country. Years ago, these flamingos were seen at the Bundala National Park, but, according to Edison, they stopped going there due to some developmental changes that were happening. They have made themselves at home in the northern part of Sri Lanka, but we must question how long they will stay.
With so many environmental issues that we are currently facing, we had to ask environmentalist and Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka (RPSL) Chief Co-ordinator Jayantha Wijesingha whether these flamingos face any dangers or threats that may prevent them from visiting Sri Lanka in the future.
He stated that there are definitely threats as we have many wetlands such as Wilpattu wetlands and the Vankalai Sanctuary that are all grounds for migratory birds like flamingos, but unfortunately, the degradation of these wetlands is a great issue that poses a threat to these birds.
“Some of these areas are to be developed into fisheries and breeding areas for different aquaculture projects,” he described, explaining that the area from Negombo Lagoon to Puttalam Lagoon, all the way up to Mannar, was used for aquaculture, which destroyed the mangrove ecosystems and natural ecosystems. He informed us that currently, there are thousands of acres of land that have been landmarked to be used for aquaculture purposes, which will inherently damage the natural ecosystems.
He added that since we have a whole wetland network, when migratory birds come, they don’t just end up in Mannar, so it is important to maintain these lands. Using an example, he reminded us of the time when many people would flock to Bellanwila and Attidiya to bird watch, and pointed out that hardly any do so now, explaining that is because the wetlands have been ruined, and birds don’t migrate to those areas anymore.
Another threat he pointed out was pollution; the coastal areas of Mannar are now being polluted and chemicals and dirty water from the aquaculture projects are being released into the oceans, which will directly affect the flamingos and other migratory birds.
“Microclimatic changes are also another issue; due to the climate change, there are possibilities of it raining during the off seasons and then what are these birds – that migrated all the way to Sri Lanka for shelter against adverse weather – to do?” he questioned.
It is beginning to be more and more clear that the issue of man-made problems is causing lasting damage to the environment; as well as directly affecting the tourism garnered by such feats like flocking flamingos.
Both Edison and Wijesingha did encourage us to go admire this magical sight ourselves and perhaps then, man will have a newfound appreciation for these things of beauty and work harder to protect them. They promised that one will experience a closeness and empathy to these beautiful birds that can only be felt; that which no words can explain. The sense of belonging will only make you more aware than ever why these precious habitats and these wonderful living animals need to be protected and preserved.