Washington, Mar 12 : Flamingos thrive best in India, despite the filth and pollution clouding the nation, says a leading ecologist who carried out a research in the sub-continent to discover why the birds are in the pink of health even though they live on untreated waste.
Dr David Harper, of the Department of Biology at the University of Leicester, has been studying lesser flamingos for nine years. His research has been carried out in the lakes of East Africa but new investigations he has carried out for the first time in India have- by his own admission - given him 'rather a shock.'
"Lesser flamingos are graceful, majestic, birds. They are not the ones you can see at the zoo, because they are very difficult to maintain in captivity, but the ones that you see on television in their hundreds of thousands, crowded into a few specialist lakes in East Africa," Harper said.
"I have been studying them, on these lakes in Kenya and Tanzania, but earlier the lakes where it feeds, occasionally with a million birds crowded together when the food is good, are almost untouched by man's activities.
"In complete contrast to Africa, where lesser flamingos only live on inland soda lakes and are never seen at the coast, in India I watched 20,000 lesser flamingos happily feeding on tidal mudflats in front of an oil refinery, a petrochemical plant and creeks bringing untreated waste from millions of people in the slums of Bombay.
"In Porbandar, the city which is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, in Gujarat to the north of Bombay, I watched 8,000 standing knee deep and happily filtering-feeding in the water alongside rubbish, cowpats and wastewater running in from surrounding houses and factories.
"In western India and Gujarat in particular, people love flamingos - it is the state's national emblem," Harper added.
He said: "Bombay is on very low-lying land that once was just a few islands in the estuary, but now about 20 million people are crammed into this city. They need the estuary and all its ecology to help clean up their wastes and even protect them against flooding. We are planning to use the flamingo to help people understand the benefits of mud and mangroves - less pretty but far more useful to them"!
Harper said that people who blame human wastes for the dying of the birds should go to India to see how well lesser flamingos thrive and how pink they grow, when they are surrounded by heavy industry and by water so polluted I could smell it a mile away.