As a global audience watch while two technology innovators attempt to fly around the world without fuel on Solar Impulse, an aircraft driven by solar powered batteries alone, a little closer to home an equally amazing flight recently took place.
Without the support of sophisticated gadgets or a high-tech mission control, a Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) recently fitted with a GPS/GSM satellite transmitter by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), covered a staggering distance of 1,069 km in one single flight over 16 hours, crossing the Indian Ocean from Mozambique to Madagascar.
Flamingo no. 27 (a small female) had been satellite tagged at Delareyville in the North West Province as part of a partnership between Eskom and the EWT, focused on tracking flamingo movements to develop measures to protect them from collisions with power lines. When Flamingo no. 27 crossed the border into Mozambique, she didn’t stop there and instead she proceeded at 7pm on Saturday the 10th of June to cross the Mozambique coast at Maxixe. She finally reached the western shores of Madagascar near Morombe at noon the following day. The recording of these extraordinary movements by Flamingo no. 27 is a breakthrough for the project and flamingo science in Africa, as to the EWT’s knowledge, this is the first time that a Lesser Flamingo has been tracked flying between mainland Africa and Madagascar. All of the long range movements (>100 km) recorded by each of the six tagged flamingos have been at night, specifically between 6pm and 2am, confirming the theory that they are night fliers and thus susceptible to nocturnal powerline collisions.
So while the Solar Impulse crew relies on the sun to ensure that their flight is successful, flamingos such as Flamingo no. 27 rely on the Eskom/EWT partnership to ensure that their path is safely lit at night. As a result, the Eskom/EWT partnership, in conjunction with Pre-formed Line Products, has designed and tested a world first nocturnal bird flight diverter called the “OWL” device, a solar-powered device equipped with LED lights. Satellite tracking information will assist the partnership to identify powerlines to mark with the OWL nocturnal bird flight diverters to improve the visibility of powerlines for birds flying at night.
Perhaps flamingos need technology to support their flight as much as Solar Impulse does after all.