Three of the world's six species of flamingoes can be found in Peru, the most flamingo species seen in any country on Earth (but tied with Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina). In some cases the most common of the three, the Chilean Flamingo, can be seen in flocks of hundreds or even a few thousand quite close to cities and sites that already are visited by travelers. Specifically, there often are hundreds of Chilean Flamingoes in the shallow bays in the northern section of the Paracas National Reserve. Additionally, there are hundreds or thousands of Chilean Flamingoes, as well as small numbers of the other two, the James's and the Andean Flamingoes, in the extensive salt flats known as "Aguada Blanca", about two hours northeast of the extremely attractive tourist city of Arequipa in the southern Andes of Peru.
The latter two species, the James's and Andean, are represented by only about 50,000 and 35,000 birds, respectively, making them the world's rarest and most endangered of all flamingoes. These population estimates are quite precise and are the result of a four-nation, cooperative flamingo conservation program first organized in 1996 by the Peruvian conservation group, Peru Verde. The program, which is known as The Conservation Group for Flamingoes of the High Andes, has successfully organized simultaneous flamingo counts by trained teams from northern Chile, southwestern Bolivia, northwestern Argentina, and southern Peru. This program has for the first time yielded accurate estimates of the global populations of the two threatened species, which live over a California -or Germany- sized area in the south-central Andes.
Birders and biologists argue about which of the three species of flamingoes found in Peru is the most beautiful. The wide variety of ornate feathers of the various species run from light pink to hot pink to salmon-colored to purplish to burgundy, and each species has a different amount of black on the flight feathers. I am sure which species I find most beautiful -Whichever one I am watching at a given moment!.
The nuptial dances of all the world's flamingoes are some of the most amazing displays in all the animal kingdom. These dances involve several dozen (up to 50 or 100 in some cases) of the brilliantly-colored birds bunching together like bright pink carnations in a flower vace and tiptoeing together slowly across the lake. As they move magically with their patented moonwalk, they swing their heads from left to right in unison like windup toy soldiers addressing their commanding general. This behavior occurs with greatest frecuency in some high Andean lakes in December and January.
Wherever you watch flamingoes, please ensure that you and your guide do not approach the animals too fast or too closely, as this will force them to fly, as happens all too often in the case of the Paracas flocks. Flamingoes that have to fly constantly to escape thoughtless travelers lose valuable feeding time, which leaves them weak and underweight, thus reducing their chances of successful breeding and survival of high Andean cold fronts.
* MARIANA VALQUI HAASE,
has graduated as an Environmental Scientist from the University of Virginia, USA. Researcher of macaws, monkeys and other wildlife in the Amazon of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. She is founder of the Peruvian conservation group Perú Verde. www.peruverde.org