Every winter, thousands of greater and lesser flamingos fly into Mumbai, forming a sea of pink against a backdrop of skyscrapers, bridges, and oil refineries along the 26km long Thane Creek. The seasonal gathering is a source of wonder in Mumbai, and also a bit of a mystery.
The flamingos only began visiting Mumbai in significant numbers in the 1990s. As the city grew in the 1970s and ’80s, so did the volume of untreated sewage flowing into Thane Creek, nurturing the algae that are the flamingos’ main food and turning the area into a feeding ground for the birds.
Their numbers have increased in the past two decades, from at least 10,000 in 2007 to an estimated 130,000 this year.
The phenomenon illustrates the wealth and complexity of urban coastal ecosystems in India, say experts. Sometimes, “human impact results in conditions that seem terrible for nature at a glance, but are actually a gold mine for some species,” says Sunjoy Monga, a veteran local naturalist and BNHS member who has also led a study on Mumbai wildlife. “There is so much organic richness amid the gloom [of the city].”
No wonder locals welcome these gorgeous creatures with open arms and revel in the colour they add to Thane Creek.