@Game Warden - I was not sure if you meant we should copy and paste the previous posts (from two topics) into this new debate topic, or whether you would be moving/copying the full posts. If the latter, feel free to edit this and insert the original posts in their proper timeline into this topic.
This debate concerns the question of whether low altitude flamingo-viewing flights by noisy aircraft, in particular helicopters, is detrimental to flamingos and harms efforts to conserve them. It seems there are Safaritalk members who do not think this is so.
" I can't help saying that in some of the photos, it looks like the Flamingos are frightened/panicked/fleeing en masse. Perhaps it is photographic artifice - how close were y'all to the Flamingos @Safaridude? Was it an Eagle or other predator flushing them instead of the helicopter?
In post #79 at the time, which began raising serious doubts in my mind, @Safaridude replied:
"Yup. Guilty as charged. For the most part, we kept a good distance. A couple of times, there is no doubt that we made them flee. The consolation is that they would settle down very quickly.
Then @Tom Kellie asked a question about how noisy the helicopter was.
In post #82 at the time, @Safaridude replied:
"@Tom Kellie @offshorebirder
If I had to guess, it's the noise that bothers them. I can't comment on the relative noise level of the helicopter.
There were many instances when the chopper got pretty close to a flock and the flock remained relaxed… as these photos (previously posted) show...
In general, greater flamingos were more relaxed than lesser flamingos.
On the question of whether this constitutes "animal harassment"… I think the answer depends entirely on the intensity of the endeavor. I think, in moderate doses, flying over flamingos is akin to walking up to a herd of buffalos in Luangwa or canoeing down the Zambezi next to a pod of hippos. Surely, the buffalos and hippos can and will flee from you, as they are meant to. Now, how much do you pursue closer contact with the buffalos and hippos from there? That's the million dollar question. I have no illusion that flying with flamingos (or going on safari at all, for that matter) is anything other than a luxury and an outlet for the well to do. It is not conservation in itself, and it doesn't help anyone or anything except for one's memory of a beautiful experience. While I can't speak for other people's helicopter excursions, at the end of the day I am satisfied that Andrew and Squack did an excellent job of providing a great experience and at the same time minimizing disturbance.
That post (#82 at the time) is where I started to became convinced that a serious breach of wildlife viewing ethics had occurred. So I consulted numerous Kenyans about how harmful disturbance is to Greater + Lesser Flamingos in general and about Helicopter flights and flamingos in particular. I received many answers, all to the effect that it was deleterious and serious. I also learned that it is illegal to fly less than 1500 feet (500 meters) over a National Park, National Reserve, or Game Reserve in Kenya.
Then in post #94 at the time I said (after quoting @Safaridude's post #82):
"@Safaridude - how close was "pretty close"? Because if it was less than 1500 feet, it was illegal.
In reaching out to experts I have been told that there is a provision in Kenya's aviation rules that lists flying at less than 1,500 feet altitude when over National Parks, National Reserves and Game Reserves as a prosecutable offense - except in an emergency or in the process of landing and taking off from a licensed aerodrome.
I managed to find an online reference to this:
"The attention of all persons in command of an aircraft is drawn to the necessity to refrain from low flying over National parks, National Reserves and Game Reserves and to the fact that under existing legislation, provisions have been made for prosecution in cases of intentional low flying.
1.2.2 To protect Game in areas detailed in 1.2.4 below, persons in command should not fly below 1500 feet above ground level except in an emergency or when in the process of landing and taking off from a licensed aerodrome."
Section 1.2.4 goes on to list Kenyan National Parks, Reserves and Game Reserves. Lake Bogoria is listed.
This prohibition is for good reason and I contend the 1,500 foot minimum height should be increased over Flamingo-hosting lakes. Like shorebirds, Flamingos live on a knife-edge energy budget and even a little regular disturbance can create conditioning problems for the birds (particularly soon before breeding season). Disturbance can also cause abandonment of feeding and nesting grounds.
When comparing Flamingo disturbance to Safarigoers' disturbance of Buffalo for example - the question arises: do the helicopter flights contribute a portion of their fee to Lake Bogoria National Reserve or to Flamingo conservation?
More to come soon in a thread on the Wildlife Conservation forum.
Subsequently, @Safaridude, @Sangeeta, @Paolo - to name a few - essentially said they did not think it was a problem in terms of disturbing the flamingos. Multiple members also made statements to the effect that @Safaridude and company were at a considerable distance from the birds, and that it was inappropriate to judge distance just from a few photos.
I replied that:
" Respondents thus far seem unwilling to admit the strong possibility that the helicopter flight in question was in violation of the law and therefore of ethical wildlife viewing."
I followed by saying I did not make an assessment from photos alone, that I used @Safaridude's OWN WORDS ("There were many instances when the chopper got pretty close to a flock"), combined with his saying that the photos show this, combined with photo detail in a couple of cases that seems hard to achieve from greater than half a kilometer away in a vibrating helicopter. Thus it was perfectly reasonable to suspect (or even conclude) they were less than half a kilometer from the birds.
Subsequently I stated that my feedback from multiple Kenyan experts all condemned the flight in particular and helicopters near flamingos in general. Then another statement from @Sangeeta indicated she still did not seem to think it was a problem for flamingos.
I will follow this post (perhaps tomorrow at this point) with citations and excerpts from peer-reviewed ecology + conservation + ornithology journals to support my contention that relatively low altitude flamingo-viewing flights of noisy aircraft (in particular helicopters) are detrimental to flamingos and should not be pursued.
I think it has been abundantly demonstrated that getting closer than 500 meters to flamingos in an aircraft in Kenya is both illegal and unethical...
Edited by offshorebirder, 24 March 2016 - 08:10 PM.