Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Near Threatened because the populations appear to be undergoing a moderately rapid decline. Proposed large-scale soda ash extraction at Lake Natron, the most important breeding colony, although currently on hold, would be disastrous for this species and, were this to happen, the species may qualify for uplisting to a higher threat category.
The global population has been estimated at c.2,220,000-3,240,000 individuals. Regional estimates include 15,000-25,000 individuals in West Africa, 1,500,000-2,500,000 in East Africa, 55,000-65,000 in South Africa and Madagascar, and 650,000 in south Asia.
The overall population trend is decreasing owing to habitat degradation and disturbance, although some populations may be stable and others have unknown trends (Delany and Scott 2006), thus a moderately rapid decline is suspected overall.
Phoeniconaias minor breeds mainly in the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Three smaller breeding congregations occur in West Africa, in southern Africa, and in India and Pakistan. When not breeding, it occurs in virtually every sub-Saharan country and from the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan. The global population has been estimated at c.2,220,000-3,240,000, including c.650,000 in Asia (Rose and Scott 1997). The largest population, estimated to be 1.5-2.5 million birds, occurs on the alkaline-saline lakes of the Great Rift Valley in East Africa (Delany and Scott 2006), with approximately 105,000 individuals at Lake Natron, Tanzania (Clamsen et al. 2011). Smaller populations occur in the Rann of Kachchh in north-western India, estimated to be approximately 390,000 birds, in southern Africa, estimated to be 55,000-65,000 birds, and in West Africa, estimated to be 15,000-25,000 birds (Delany and Scott 2006). Declines have been suggested for much of Africa, including in its major breeding site at Lake Natron (Simmons 1996, Rose and Scott 1997, Clamsen et al. 2011), and at at least one site in India (Kulshreshtha et al. 2011). However, the overall rate of decline is difficult to clarify owing to large-scale movements of individuals within the continent (Zaccara et al. 2008) and between Africa and India (Parasharya et al. 2015). The species is adapted to respond to local environmental changes in sites by moving elsewhere, and thus depends on a network of suitable areas (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, Zaccara et al. 2011).
Behaviour This species is itinerant and makes extensive movements in response to environmental conditions (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Borello et al. 1998, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, McCulloch et al. 2003, Childress et al. 2007, Vijayan et al. 2011). The Asian and southern African populations are partially migratory, with many making regular movements from their breeding sites inland to coastal wetlands when not breeding (McCulloch et al. 2003, Jadhav and Parasharya 2004). The species breeds in huge colonies of many thousands of pairs, often mixed with Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The timing of breeding is irregular and varies geographically, depending on the timing of the rains, with individual adults often not breeding annually (Brown et al. 1982), but it has been suggested that breeding failures (possibly over 10 or more years) may have no effect on the overall population dynamics (Parasharya et al. 2015). The species is an obligate filter feeder and feeds during the night and early morning when the surface of the water is calm, primarily by swimming and filtering the algae near the surface with a specialised bill that contains up to 10,000 microscopic lamellae (del Hoyo et al. 1992). When necessary, the species forms large dense feeding flocks that create calm water for feeding near the centre of the flock (del Hoyo et al. 1992).
Habitat The species breeds on large undisturbed alkaline and saline lakes, salt pans or coastal lagoons, usually far out from the shore, after seasonal rains have provided the flooding necessary to isolate remote breeding sites from terrestrial predators and the soft muddy material for nest building (Brown and Root 1971, del Hoyo et al. 1992, McCulloch and Irvine 2004).
Diet It has a highly specialised diet consisting almost entirely of microscopic blue-green algae (Spirulina spp., Oscillatoria spp. and Lyngbya spp.) and benthic diatoms (Navicula spp., Bacillariophyceae) found only in alkaline lakes, salt pans and saline lagoons and estuaries (del Hoyo et al. 1992). To a lesser extent, the species will also take small aquatic invertebrates such as rotifers (Brachiomus spp.) (del Hoyo et al. 1992).
Breeding site The nest is built from mud substrates (Brown and Root 1971, Brown et al. 1982).
Management information The species will breed successfully on artificial breeding islands in ideal conditions (Anderson 2008).
Only three main breeding sites exist in Africa and one in India, all facing threats and requiring protection (R. E. Simmons in litt. 1998, Parasharya et al. 2015). Proposed soda-ash mining and hydroelectric power schemes affecting the main breeding site, Lake Natron in Tanzania, although currently put on hold, could cause rapid overall population declines owing to disturbance and the introduction of an alien brine shrimp to clean the soda of algae (the species's food) (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). In 2008, these proposals were still on hold, but had not been withdrawn (Anderson 2008). Other threats include land-claim, water pollution, and collisions with electric wires (NamPower/ Namibia Nature Foundation Strategic Partnership 2010, Tere and Parasharya 2011). There are fears that the population at Lake Bogoria is suffering from malnutrition (R. E. Simmons in litt. 1998, S. J. Tyler in litt. 1999, D. Harper in litt. 2007).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. It breeds at an artificially created site at Kamfers Dam, South Africa (M. Anderson in litt. 2008, Anderson 2015). In September 2006, 35 experts from the states within the species's range attended a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, to start the process of drafting an International Action Plan for the species under the auspices of CMS and AEWA (Anon. 2008), which was produced in 2008 (Childress et al. 2008). Breeding success was increased at a West African mixed colony with Greater Flamingo P. roseus by the prevention of hunting and deterrence of pedators (Moreno-Opo et al. 2011). In Namibia, the NamPower/ Namibia Nature Foundation Strategic Partnership is looking into reducing collisions with power lines in that country (NamPower/ Namibia Nature Foundation Strategic Partnership 2010). In Botswana, the breeding area at the Makgadikgadi salt pans was listed as a Flamingo sanctuary in 2009, and a management plan for this site has been developed (Kootsositse 2012).
Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Mahood, S., Ashpole, J, Malpas, L., O'Brien, A., Pilgrim, J., Robertson, P., Evans, M., Taylor, J.
Tyler, S., Simmons, R.E., Harper, D., Bennun, L.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Phoeniconaias minor. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 29/03/2023.