Indian lesser flamingos compared to their African cousins in new genetic study

Posted by pt91 at Feb 07, 2012 11:55 AM |
Are flamingos in India and Africa genetically birds of a feather?

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 7 February 2012

A University of Leicester conservation biologist - David Harper, from the Department of Biology - is leading a study which will establish whether lesser flamingos of India and Africa are genetically identical or not.

The Asian population of flamingos, which is the second largest in the world, is concentrated in Gujarat. However, the African flamingos are distributed in  East,  South and West Africa. The largest population is spread between Ethiopia and Tanzania, along the soda lakes of East Africa.

Dr David Harper is working with research scientist B M Parasharya and geneticist  D.N. Rank of Anand Agricultural University (AAU) in Gujarat. The findings of this study will be compared with earlier results on African flamingos by Dr Harper’s team of UK and Italian scientists from Insubria University, Varese. Then, they found that populations are distinct, but mix by about half a dozen individuals every generation who cross the thousands of kilometres between Botswana-Nabibia and Kenya-Tanzania.  

Dr Harper recently attended the second Global Bird Watchers Conference at Ahmedabad -  organised by Gujarat Tourism, in partnership with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) – where he made an invited presentation about lesser flamingos and their habitats . The study, which he carried out after the conference, will provide the only scientific evidence for inter-continental movement of flamingos.

David Harper says:  “Lesser flamingos are fascinating birds for very many reasons. No other vertebrate on this planet can exist by filter feeding on bacteria alone. They have 4 distinct populations, thousands of miles apart, yet no birds have ever been seen moving between them. They breed in the most inhospitable regions of the earth where predators cannot survive – one in Tanzania and one in India. They are the origin of the fable of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, because until 1960 nobody knew where they bred, they just appeared from nowhere, a majestic ‘firebird’.”

The study was originally funded by the Darwin Initiative and the British Council and more recently by the State of Gujarat Tourism Department as part of the 2nd Global Birdwatchers Conference.


NOTES TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Dr Harper via

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