Beautiful flamingos stopping over in Cyprus for their annual January-February migration are dying because of a mystery illness that may be down to them confusing lead pellets for plankton and shrimps.
Local environmental officials and green politicians are demanding an urgent enquiry to sort out the cause of the deaths of the migratory birds, which at this time of year make the stopover at at Aliki Lake in Larnaca to stock up on food.
The flamingos like to tuck into the plankton and shrimps that they filter out with their beaks, and it’s believed that they are accidentally eating lead pellets as the area in the past was used as a shooting range.
According to local media, 20 dead flamingos were found at Larnaca Salt Lake in the port city of Larnaca in southern Cyprus on 25th January while two others were found there the following day, sparking concerns with environmental groups.
Larnaca Salt Lake is a network of four salt lakes of which three are interconnected and of which the largest is lake Aliki which is particularly popular with the flamingos.
It is unclear what is causing the deaths and a spokesman for the Larnaca council told local media: “The municipality is in constant contact with the Environment Service and the Game Department regarding the dead flamingos at Larnaca Salt Lake.”
The council vowed to “take the appropriate steps with the competent state authorities after the results of the post-mortem examination on the flamingos”.
The Game Department said the flamingos died from a combination of lead in the lake and stress caused by a cold snap in the region. It is the humid climate plus the food which attracts the flamingos in the first place, and a dip in temperature is certain to put weaker birds at risk.
The animal rights NGO ‘BirdLife Cyprus’ has expressed concern at the deaths, adding that they are in contact with the authorities to identify the exact cause of death and take necessary measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Larnaca mayor Andreas Vyras also said the reported lead poisoning was caused by pellets left by a shooting range that has since moved to another location. Vyras said the authorities will look into clearing the salt lake further.
BirdLife Cyprus agreed that lead poisoning appears to be cause of death based on a preliminary probe, as pellets were even found in some of the birds’ stomachs, but clarified that more tests are required to show the levels of toxicity and whether they were fatal to the flamingos, according to local media.
However, the Greens said they were dissatisfied with the lead poisoning explanation given by the Game Department as the shooting range was relocated 15 years ago.
They added that the lake was cleared at the time, and two ministers assured them just two weeks ago after a question was posed in parliament that there was no risk of lead poisoning for the birds, according to reports.
The Greens said they are waiting for the results of the lake samples and tests on the dead birds before deciding on their next course of action.
At this time of year flamingo watching is a popular tourist pastime with people turning up to see flamingos dip their heads in water and get food.
At this time last year there were reportedly more than five thousand individuals and no numbers have yet been confirmed for this year’s migration but is believed to be similar.
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