Why would anyone head north to the desert during their travel to Chile instead of going south to go hiking in Patagonia? Flamingos would be one good reason. Of the world’s six species of flamingos, three prefer the stark conditions found in Chile’s Atacama Desert: the James, the Andean and the Chilean.
It is perhaps one of the oddest traits of Chile’s flamingos that as wading birds, dependent on water, most choose to inhabit the Atacama, one of the driest places on Earth. Though they are spared some of the environmental concerns that threaten other species, Chile’s flamingos are nonetheless not without risk. These flamingos have fewer predators to worry about than many other species of the bird world because few care to share the harsh conditions in which the species thrive. Neither do humans, though the mining of minerals from the region’s saline lakes brings human activities too close to their habitat. Global warming, droughts or any other climate change that reduces the amount of water available to the flamingos in these dry desert areas wreak havoc on these species.
A Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist Group was established in 1971 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to promote flamingo research, conservation and education. Counting of the three species found in Chile to determine their conservation status did not begin until the 1990s. To learn more about efforts underway to protect flamingos worldwide, check out www.flamingo-sg.org.
Where you see flamingos during your travel to Chile, you’ll likely also encounter vicunas, the tiny, soft wild camelids that prefer the same high elevations. All three flamingo species are found in various locations in the National Flamingo Reserve (La Reserva National Los Flamencos), established in 1990. The largest portion of the reserve surrounds the huge Salar de Atacama. Two other salars, the Pujsa and the Aguas Calientes IV, both east of the Salar de Atacama, were designated wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 2009, primarily because of their significance to Chile’s flamingo species. Poaching of eggs is a problem that is being addressed through community education.
If flamingos are on your bucket list of species to see, and you have plans to travel to Chile, consider adding our four-day San Pedro de Atacama tour extension to your Chile tours. This unforgettable excursion spends four days in the exotic Atacama landscape where flamingos are found in abundance.