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Flourishing Flamingos

There are many attractions in the BVI for both visitors and residents; rare sites unique to the islands’ climate and geographical location.

Alongside the extremely exquisite scenic allure of the great outdoors here, there is the fauna of the region that evokes interest and curiosity. One such species are the majestic flamingos who were reintroduced to the BVI approximately 40 years ago; their conspicuous colour against the green and blue backdrop of the island’s appearance, is all too vivid to miss.

Since September 2017’s Hurricane Irma, VIPY caught up with both the BVI Department of Conservation and Fisheries, and resident wildlife expert and friend of VIPY, Clive Petrovic—head of Marine Studies at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College—for the latest on the flamingo reintroduction and how they fared.

Using the National Parks Trust’s estimate of the flamingo flock inhabiting the various islands of the BVI, there is a unified acknowledgment of understandable loss owing to the ferocity of the hurricanes that stormed through in September 2017.

“…Flamingos are a native species to the Caribbean and are adapted to surviving hurricanes. While numbers are down, a few successful breeding seasons should restore losses and the population’s continued growth,” said Clive, who went on to explain that the hurricane’s impact was measured by field and breeding surveys to determine reproductive success for subsequent years.

“Post Hurricane Irma, it was reported that a total of 58 birds died,” reported Conservation and Fisheries. “Usually, the flamingos would mate late December; unfortunately, they didn’t last year as wild life managers believe they were traumatised by…September 2017. Currently, Necker and Moskito have over 350 birds residing in the ponds of the islands.”

Journeying to the BVI’s past, Flamingos were abundant throughout the islands. They were hunted to extinction over 50 years ago as a food source and for their plumage to serve on women’s headwear.

The purpose of their reintroduction, was to reinstate a natural part of the BVI, restore the ponds’ ecosystem, and as a bonus, provide a pleasant tourist attraction.

They were reintroduced to the BVI in the early 1980’s with the help of the Conservation Agency President Dr. James (Skip) Lazell. He collaborated the restoration efforts with local and international companies, and notable names such as The Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo, Richard Winchell, Mocata Corporation, Dr. Henry Jarecki, the BVI National Parks Trust, and Nick Clark.

Transporting a small group of flamingos from the Bermuda Zoo to the protection the wild life sanctuary on Guana Island affords, the establishment of flamingo breeding continued in 1992 to the island of Anegada and following, Tortola.

“Flamingos were also introduced on Necker Island and then Moskito Island privately by Sir Richard Branson,” added the Department of Conservation and Fisheries.

“Flocks are often seen flying between Necker and Anegada,” said Clive. “Plus, small flocks of up to a few dozen birds are often seen on Tortola and other islands with reports from the USVI and even Puerto Rico. Most likely those wanderers are from Necker. The Necker population is close to 300 birds with successful breeding on Necker.”

The Conservation and Fisheries Department intends to see the restoration effort expand to Belmont Pond—the largest pond in Tortola—and at Josiah’s Bay.

“The Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo has provided the Department a free offer by giving us twenty-one flamingo birds for our restoration efforts,” said Conservation and Fisheries. “Unfortunately, funds are needed to transport the flamingos safely from Bermuda to the BVI.”

It would cost $21,000 for the department to assume this responsibility and they’re seeking any avid wildlife donors to aid their cause.

The flamingo population on Anegada is gradually increasing and given another decade, the potential for the count to reach 1000 is high. “Eventually, the combined populations on Anegada and Necker should number many thousands,” said Clive. “Then they will expand…and feeding flocks should visit all islands in the region.”

Conservation and Fisheries advised that challenges in preserving the flamingos emerge in the form of stray animals—like cats and dogs—rodents, and people disturbing their nesting grounds. Regarding the charge granted to residents, habitat preservation is imperative. This means maintenance of the Anegada salt ponds, free from development, pollution,’ invasives,’ human interference, and other forms of disturbance.

In the future, it’s possible the BVI may see other species reintroduced. “About 20 years ago, a small project on Guana Island tried to reintroduce the White-Crowned Pigeon. It was successful but was a pilot project and large-scale reintroduction was not pursued,” said Clive. “Branson has brought in Scarlet Ibis and white Ibis on Necker. Both species once roamed these islands. The numbers are presently small, but should increase in time. There are a few other possibilities, and some reptiles and amphibians that were extirpated from the BVI.”

For now, residents and visitors can be contented with the flamboyant pink of the flamingos that continue to thrive and bless the BVI.

Photography by Melvin Rutledge

Erin Paviour-Smith

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