Size: 183,740 Acres
The Inagua National Park is about one hours’ drive from Matthew Town and covers 183,740 acres of Great Inagua. Birdlife dominates the park and the flamingo, the national bird of the Bahamas is its star attraction. Inagua National park is the site of the largest breeding colony of west Indian Flamingos in the world. Today the population numbers approximately 60,000 after having made a 40 year journey back from the edge of extinction.
As early as 1905, concern for the West Indian flamingo in the Caribbean was intense. The flamingos were hunted for their meat and residents of islands close to nesting areas would raid the colonies, especially for the squabs. Flamingos were also hunted for their plumage. Wild pigs that were introduced by early settlers fed by the birds’ eggs and young and so they acquired a taste for ‘flamingo’. Ironically the final blow was given them by Royal Air Force Pilots, who took to buzzing the colonies for fun, sending flocks dashing for cover and permanently frightening some away.
By the 1950’s a close working relationship had been established between the National Audubon Society and The Bahamas. Concerned with the sudden decline in the flamingo population during the early years of that decade. Audubon sent is then research director, Robert Porter Allen, to Inagua in an attempt to prevent the birds fast approaching extinction. Allen arrived in Inagua in the spring of 1952. Sam Nixon, the best hunter and guide on Inagua, took Allen to the Upper Lakes of Inagua where they found more than a thousand flamingos “commulating” as Nixon had promised they would. The birds massed in that riotous courtship ritual of head turing, wing flicking, and exaggerated strutting that Allen called “the Flamingo Quadrille”. Here, Allen realized was a breeding colony in isolation from which the diminishing flamingo pop might be replenishing.
The society for the Protection of the Flamingo in The Bahamas was formed, made up of a number of American and Bahamian Conservationists. The new society appointed Sam Nixon the first flamingo warden on Great Inagua. Later in 1952, Jimmy Nixon became his assistant. Allen designed and built the little camp on Long Cay and named it for Author Vernay, the first president on the new Society.
Another positive step was the creation of the Bahama National Trust by an Act of Parliament in 1959. As the official organization responsible for wildlife protection and national park management, the Trust took over the work of the old society of the protection of the flamingo. The Trust, learning a lesson from the disappearance of the flamingos from Andros, has made the air space above the Inagua National Park a restricted area with fights not being allowed below 2,000 feet. Today, the BNT warden Henry Nixon patrol the Park and protect the flamingos.
Importance to Biodiversity
Wildlife: While the environment of Inagua may be hostile to human habitation, it is perfect for birds and other wildlife. Many people travel to the southernmost island to see flamingos, but are surprised and delighted to see a multitude of other birds and wildlife as well. The native Bahama parrot, the endemic Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird, White Cheeked Pintails, Brown Pelicans, Tri-colored herons, Snowy egrets, Reddish egrets, Western Spindalis, Cormorants, Roseeate Spoonbills, American kestrels, and Burrowing owls abound in the Park’s interior. Birds however are not the Parks only treasure. Wild Donkeys trot amongst the mangroves, freshwater terrapins inhabit the ponds, and bonsai forests grace its interior.
Repopulation: The success of the Inagua National Park is evident in the repopulating of other Caribbean islands by the Inagua population. Scientists are aware of the connection between Cuba and Inagua as well as healthy flamingo colonies on the Turks and Caicos Islands and Grand Cayman as well as then repopulating of Crooked Island and Acklins Island by the Inagua flamingos.
in 1997 The Bahamas became the 99th party to the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. At the same time, the Inagua National Park was designated a wetland of international importance. Once seen as wetlands, wetlands are now considered fundamental to the world’s ecology as regulators of water regimes and as habitats for a wide variety of plants and animals, especially waterfowl. They are viewed as a resource of great economic, cultural and scientific value, the loss of which would be irreparable.
Morton salt company produces salt by solar evaporation in the vast flat salt pans or reservoirs that criss cross the Inagua landscape. It is a two year process as seawater is gradually circulated from pan to pan. In time algae, fostered by the flamingo droppings, grows in the water and darkens it. This hastens evaporation by absorbing more sunlight. Then the tiny brine shrimp begin feeding on algae cleaning the water. And the flamingos feed on the shrimp until the salt is ready for harvesting, leaving everyone tickled pink!