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Let pink prevail

Updated August 12, 2018

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Pink flamingos in flight and in the shallow water around the mangroves at Port Qasim. Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Pink flamingos in flight and in the shallow water around the mangroves at Port Qasim. Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: “Hush ... get into our car. The less cars there are the better,” says Mirza Naim Beg, birdwatcher and wildlife photographer, as we get close to the flock of pink flamingos at Port Qasim very early in the morning. The birds don’t seem too shy but still we are careful.

One can hear crows’ cawing along with some other bird sounds mixed in but you can’t tell for sure which of these sounds are being made by the flamingos.

They were all there. You can see them from a distance standing in the shallow waters of the mangroves. Some take flight as you get closer and that is when you also get to see their pinkish beaks and those long and thin pink legs and pink feathers flutter in their wings.

The flamingos with black wings and straight beaks are juvenile.
The flamingos with black wings and straight beaks are juvenile.

Flamingos consume algae, plankton and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps. The colour pink in their feathers comes from the beta carotene found in the crustaceans and plankton. If their diet does not include these like it happens for flamingos in captivity such as those kept in zoos, their feathers will turn white.

Flamingos consume algae, plankton and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps, which gives their feathers a pink hue.
Flamingos consume algae, plankton and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimps, which gives their feathers a pink hue.

The pink flamingos are also known as greater flamingos with the scientific name of their species being Phoenicopterus roseus. The kind is common in the subcontinent and also in the Middle East, Africa and south Europe. So if there are greater flamingos, there must also be lesser flamingos. These are a smaller size of the bird, actually the smallest in flamingos and their scientific name is Phoenicoparrus minor. If they are spotted in Pakistan they are really out of their normal range and hence migrating or they are here due to change in world weather.

Wildlife photography requires a lot of hard work and patience.
Wildlife photography requires a lot of hard work and patience.

Another kind of flamingos is the ones found here with black wings and straight beaks. “They are actually the children or juvenile flamingos,” we are told by the wildlife photographers. Wildlife photography requires a lot of patience. These people keep as still as possible with their cameras and powerful lenses for extended periods of time waiting for the perfect shot. It’s a thankless job usually, because the birds certainly do not appreciate their presence!

Factory waste being disposed of carelessly in the area has done a lot of harm to the natural habitat of the birds.
Factory waste being disposed of carelessly in the area has done a lot of harm to the natural habitat of the birds.

But the wildlife photographers are not the only people there in mangroves today. There are at least three more people there and unlike the photographers they are braving the marshy water. Slowly they cross the water to reach the dense mangroves. They carry harmful intentions as they are heading towards the hatchery or breeding and nesting area of the birds. They are looking to catch flamingo chicks to bring to the main city’s biggest bird market at the Empress Market to sell. Another threat to these beautiful birds is the dying mangroves of our coastal areas. Factory waste from all over is being regularly disposed of carelessly in the area which is slowly killing the mangrove forests. It has done a lot of harm to the natural habitat of the birds.

Poachers with harmful intentions.
Poachers with harmful intentions.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2018