Mystery Disease Killing
Tens Of Thousands
Of African Flamingos
By Adrian Blomfield
LAKE BOGORIA, Kenya (Reuters) - A mystery disease, possibly caused by pollution, is killing tens of thousands of flamingos on Lake Bogoria in the Kenyan Rift Valley.
Conservationists are pointing the finger at human pollution as the cause of the disease, which has killed up to 50,000 birds on the lake, the biggest concentration of flamingos in the world, since July.
And some say the disease could call into question the future of the lesser flamingo, the most common type of the species.
Tests done on some of the corpses that litter the shores of the lake have shown alarming results, according to Gideon Motelin, who specializes in flamingo studies at Kenya's Egerton University.
``In every single bird which we collected and analyzed the tissues we found up to nine or ten heavy metals,'' he told Reuters.
``It is not normal to find arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium and copper in the livers and kidneys of these birds.'' Traces of pesticide have also been found in the body tissue of the dead birds and conservationists believe the source of the pollution is the farms near Lake Nakuru, about 60 miles south of Bogoria, which the flamingos abandoned two years ago.
<link Reuters Photo
``There are large-scale farms there and it's one of the most productive areas in the country,'' said Jackson Rayini of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). ``It's clearly having an impact.''
Although there were outbreaks of disease in both 1993 and 1995, each lasted for just a month. The latest spate of deaths began in July, 1999.
``If it continues like this we may lose quite a keystone species,'' Rayini said. ``It is extremely worrying.''
Eighty percent of the world's flamingo population live on the eastern Rift Valley lakes, with the vast majority living on the 30 square kilometer Bogoria -- the only real haven left for the bird since Nakuru became virtually uninhabitable.
But that haven is also a prison, say the conservationists.
Bogoria used to be a brief stop-over location for the flamingos but with nowhere else to go they have made the lake their home -- and there is just not enough food to go round, placing huge pressure both on the birds and on the lake.


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