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Unusual Flamingo Colony Settles on Arabian Peninsula

August 6, 1993

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ The first breeding colony of flamingos in Arabia in 70 years abandoned 80 nests overnight after someone stole most of the eggs.

English and Swedish ornithologists had been monitoring the Greater Flamingos since they arrived from Africa in June at the edge of a mangrove- sheltered saline lake. On July 9, footprints showed an adult wearing shoes had passed among the nests, perhaps foraging for food.

Erik Hirshfeld of Sweden, one of Europe’s top bird experts, came to check the colony the next day. One chick, two or three days old, lay dead next to its nest, probably starved to death after its parents left. A single egg was found across a water channel.

″Flamingos rarely form new colonies, and this was a great discovery,″ Hirshfeld said.

″This is the first time for more than 70 years that flamingos have laid eggs and hatched young ones anywhere in Arabia,″ Hirshfeld said. ″We are heartened by the appearance of the colony, if saddened by the result.″

But there was heartening news again this week, when it was discovered that the flamingos had resettled about a half mile away.

″The flamingos will not nest this year again, after being disturbed from their previous place,″ said Peter Hellyer of England, an amateur naturalist living in the United Arab Emirates. But he said was hopeful they would breed next year if the government enacts laws against the thefts of their eggs.

The nesting area and the resettlement site are in a protected area near a military base. It is patrolled, but not fenced.

The official WAM news agency reported the egg theft. But there have been no reports of an investigation or arrest.

The theft of the eggs shows that more officials here need to become aware of the importance of protecting such sites, Hirschfeld said. Hellyer, Hirshfeld and other naturalists had been watching the birds. Hellyer visited them on July 7, counted at least four chicks and four eggs, and saw several flamingos sitting on their nests.

Two days later Hirshfeld came to check and found the devastation.

Flamingos normally are found in Africa.