The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana are one of the most important breeding sites in southern Africa for lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor and greater flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Much of flamingo migration behaviour is unknown and there has been speculation on the pattern of flamingo movements to and from Makgadikgadi and their dispersal throughout southern Africa. We carried out the first satellite tracking of flamingos in southern Africa to find out where lesser and greater flamingos go after leaving Makgadikgadi. In July 2001 five lesser and three greater flamingos were tagged. Following migration from the pans, one of the greater flamingos flew west to the coast of Namibia, the other south to a small wetland in South Africa. The lesser flamingos moved south-east from Makgadikgadi to South Africa and Mozambique. Movement by both species was nocturnal. This work shows that flamingos migrate from all over southern Africa to Makgadikgadi to breed. It also shows that, during the non-breeding season, movement is widely dispersed and nomadic among a network of wetlands around the subcontinent. Small wetlands, often unrecognized as important for conservation, provide valuable feeding sites and migration staging posts along flamingo migration routes. This highlights the need for the conservation of the network of small wetlands around southern Africa, which are often under threat from anthropogenic activities, to protect two high profile bird species in decline.
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