Australia was once a continent graced by flamingos. These tall pink birds are more associated with Africa and the Americas, but a long time ago they called Australia home. For at least 20 million years, flamingos thrived on vast Australian inland lakes, until a drying of the outback ended their reign, perhaps a million years ago.
The Lake Eyre region in South Australia once had three species, more than Africa today. Altogether Australia had at least six flamingo species, including the Greater flamingo – the main flamingo in Africa. Australian museums have accumulated more of their fossils than of some regular Australian birds such as parrots. At some sites their remains lay near those of outback crocodiles, dolphins and lungfish.
Flamingos are still regarded as Australian birds, for a very tenuous reason. In 1988 a Greater flamingo dropped in on North Keeling Island, a remote Australian territory 2750km north-west of Perth, staying a couple of months. Greater flamingos are found in Asia and southern Europe as well as Africa and this one had wandered over from India or Sri Lanka.
In Adelaide Zoo you could have seen the only flamingo left in Australia, a Chilean flamingo known warmly as ‘Chile’. She was thought to have been imported in the late 1970s. For quarantine reasons flamingos are now forbidden imports, which means that Australia is destined to become a flamingo-free zone unless another long-legged pink nomad wanders over from Asia.
February 6, 2017
More flamingo facts and fabulous photographs:
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward