Discovering flamingos in Bolivia's unique salt flats

Flamingos on a mirror-like water surface


On my sixth visit to Bolivia, I climbed almost 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes to visit the Uyuni Salt Flat, a dried-up, prehistoric lake that’s been transformed into a stunning, desertlike landscape covered in gleaming white salt and islands scattered with cacti. Fighting against altitude sickness, I prepared to start taking photos here—on the world’s largest salt flat—when I caught sight of this flock of Chilean flamingos resting their wings.

I was surprised to encounter these graceful pink birds, since there’s little other wildlife in this desolate environment. As I approached them, I realized I was witnessing an arresting natural phenomenon. When the salt pan floods during the rainy season, water collects in shallow pools that blur the line between the land and clouds—the reason Salar de Uyuni is nicknamed the “mirror in the sky.” I inched toward the flamingos, careful not to disturb their preening atop the shimmering water, so I could capture this otherworldly photo.

Long a peaceful location where flamingos stop to rest as they migrate, this salt flat is now in danger because of its reserve of natural lithium, a metal used in electric vehicle batteries. Lithium plants are polluting the region and threatening the sanctity of the ecosystem. As I photographed these flamingos enjoying their hard-earned rest, I became worried that this unique landscape could soon be destroyed. But I also felt a renewed sense of purpose: to maintain the wondrous harmony we find in nature.

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