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Unselfish work by our vets and students to rescue flamingos pays off

Posted on March 20, 2019

Almost two months ago, on 25 January, the second chapter of a remarkable flamingo rescue story was written when 900 day-old lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) chicks arrived in Gauteng from Kimberley.

Initially, 9 facilities across the country were involved with caring for the chicks. The Faculty of Veterinary Science’s clinicians and students have been involved from day one and their dedication and passion prevented the loss of many more flamingos.

This followed the rescue of hundreds of lesser baby flamingos at the Kamfers Dam by a group of Kimberley residents with the help of the Kimberley SPCA. The chicks had been feeling the squeeze of the dry sewage dam with many of them dying as a result of dehydration and starvation. The man-made Kamfers dam had been running low on sewage water supply, with the lack of rain aggravating the situation.

The rescue project at OP was initiated by Dr Dorian Elliot, manager and owner of the Bird and Exotic Animal clinic in the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (OVAH) and Dr Katja Koeppel, a veterinary wildlife specialist in the Faculty. “It has been the most challenging seven weeks for most of us. We could not have done it without the dedication of veterinary nurses, veterinary students and exotic clinic staff, alike”, Dr Koeppel says. 

All of them dedicated every available opportunity to these little creatures. Initially the chicks needed 24-hour care and feeding every 2 hours during the night which gradually became two to three times a day.

Over 200 flamingo chicks have been housed at the faculty’s veterinary hospital during the 7-week period but mostly staff and students have been looking after 50 chicks at a time. “With our available veterinary expertise and facilities, we have taken in all of the most compromised birds, diagnosed and stabilised them and then sent them to other facilities such as Montecasino Bird Garden and Lory Park Zoo for hand rearing”, Dr Koeppel says.

An excellent example of the success story was the flamingo chick named Sunshine (banner photo) that arrived at OP with crop stasis and infection, weighing just 50 g during week one. The vets managed to stabilize her and she will now be sent to Kimberley after she had reached a healthy 500g during week seven and is eating by herself. 

The vets also reserved gratitude for the assistance they received from international veterinarians and veterinary technicians from American Zoos especially Dallas Zoo, zoo keepers from UAI and countless local volunteers, who brought food, toys and blankets.

All in all, the future of these flamingo chicks appears to be much rosier than before. It could almost be described as flamingo-pink. Discussions between local authorities in Kimberley and local and international flamingo specialists concluded that most of them will be returned to Kimberley to be released back into the Kamfers Dam. Only healthy chicks with a minimum body weight of 900g will be released to give them the best chance of survival.

A temporary holding facility has been built at the Kimberley SPCA that can take in chicks to acclimatise them to the local conditions. A disaster management plan is being drafted for the future and a task team was formed in the city to assess the situation and respond if needed.

The chicks have to be self-feeding and clinically healthy and must weigh at least 500 g to make the return flight to Kimberley. Soon, Sunshine the flamingo chick will be one of the lucky ones to make the flight back home where, if all goes well, she would be released back into her natural habitat when she is strong enough.

Lesser flamingo are near threatened according to the IUCN Red list and currently only breed at four sites in Africa:

  • Etosha Pan
  • Sua Pan (Botswana)
  • Kamfers Dam (sometimes up to 150,000 flamingo)
  • Lake Natron (Tanzania)

 

**  The other facilities that were involved with caring for these flamingo chicks are Lory Park Zoo; Montecasino Bird Garden; National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria; Ushaka Marine World; Sanccob; Mike Bolhuis; Vulpro; World of Birds, and of course the Kimberley SPCA. The chicks at Vulpro and World of Birds were later moved to other facilities.

- Author Dr Katja Koeppel / CVB

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