A Pink Affair to Protect
Come winter and the sultry maximum city Mumbai city takes on a pleasant hue of pink, not only owing to the warm winter hues that soak the sky, but also thanks to the arrival of pleasant pink beings- the flamingos. These are the winter citizens of Mumbai, a unique example of thriving urban wildlife in one of the most populated cities in the world. Let’s unravel the mystery of these pink pretty beings.
Why do we see flamingos in winter?
Why would these dainty birds forsake the quietude of interiors to take up refuge in a densely populated city like Mumbai, one may think. Flamingos flourish in the mudflat harbour habitat along the coastal areas which are interspersed with patches of mangrove vegetation. Every November, thousands of flamingos forsake their homes in Kutch (where most are seen coming from) and other areas and establish abode in the maximum city. Food seems to be the primary reason- the flamingos abound in numbers, feeding on the small marine animals and plants in brackish shallow water, which is abundant along the city’s saline creeks. Primarily, two types of flamingo species are seen in Mumbai- the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) and Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor). Both these species are differentiated by size and colour, with the Greater Flamingo being taller and whiter in plumage, with more black markings on the beak. flamingos stay in Mumbai till the onset of the monsoons, after which most head back to the dry areas of Bhuj for breeding. Only a small resident population comprising mostly of old and injured individuals stay back, taking on a permanent Mumbai residency.
Protecting this Winter Home for Flamingos
The Sewri creek has been one of the strongholds of flamingos, with thousands of these pretty birds migrating from far off to call the megacity their home. The first instances of flamingo migration were seen way back in the late 1990s and gradually realizing the importance of these species in the context of urban wildlife, the Maharashtra government put in place some extensive conservation efforts to encourage this trend. The government declared the northern part of Thane Creek as a flamingo sanctuary in 2015, under Section 18 of the Wildlife (Protection Act), 1972. As a result, this highly polluted creek area between Airoli and Vashi is getting special attention in the form of conservation efforts and is gradually becoming a popular go-to place for wildlife lovers, birders, and environmentalists in Mumbai. Spread across 1,690-hectares (896 hectares of mangrove forests and 794 hectares of a waterbody), this bird-haven is only the second marine sanctuary of Maharashtra after the Malvan sanctuary.
Understanding the Conservation Efforts
It was in the year 2014 that the Mumbai Port Trust and BNHS launched an ambitious five-year plan to undertake conservation action to protect and preserve these feathered friends. The initiative took on greater thrust with the area of Thane creek being declared as a wildlife sanctuary, under the purview of the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit of the Mangrove Cell of the Forest Department. The area has been included in the “Conservation and Sustainable Management (CSM) of Potential and Existing Coastal and Marine Protected Areas” (CPMA). Initial baseline studies and rapid biodiversity assessment were initiated to put in place a sustainable management plan. Some of the core activities being carried out now are:
- Close monitoring of the ecosystem and shielding from serious threats such as the discharge of effluents, dumping of sewage and other biotic interferences.
- Studies on flamingo population: Studies are being undertaken to understand flamingo movement and movement of other waders.
- Educating the people about the role that these species play in the overall urban biodiversity scene and thereby create sensitivity and awareness.
- Protection of the mangrove forests which are the core reason for flamingos to visit Mumbai every year. This goes hand-in-hand with marine conservation.
These are only some of the steps being taken to ensure that flamingos need not worry about external factors and safely reside in Mumbai. Now, these pink beauties may be able to call Mumbai not just a vacation place, but a true home for themselves!
What should you do?
The best way to understand the importance of these “pink Mumbaikars” is to observe them in their natural habitat and dwell upon their role in the overall ecosystem. A number of wildlife and nature organizations conduct flamingo watching events where people can get a taste of wildlife exploration right in the heart of the city. Some of these tours involve watching flamingos from a viewing deck like a jetty, while others involve traversing the creeks in boats with the locals and wildlife experts. Here is your chance to enjoy the winter breeze and winter pink sights, up close and personal. Embarking on these bird-watching expeditions is a great way to start your flamingo fascination. You can also get involved in conservation efforts such as mangrove cleaning and contribute in a small but significant way to the protection of these pink pretties.
So why wait, the time is right here and right now- take a break from your urban existence and bite into a slice of nature right in your city! Winter is here and so is flamingo cheer!
Cover Pic: Flamingo’s in flight
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