Flamingo chicks nursed back to health

Posted on April 05, 2019

Most of the 200 rescued flamingos from Kimberley’s Kamfers Dam, which were nursed to good health by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Science, are ready to be returned to the dam.

At the end of January, 900 day-old Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) chicks, which are close to being threatened according to the IUCN Red list, arrived in Gauteng from Kimberely thanks to the assistance of a group of Kimberley residents and the Kimberley SPCA. According to Dr Katja Koeppel, a veterinary wildlife specialist in the faculty: “The chicks were abandoned by their parents owing to the low water level of the 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 Onderstepoort 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. Over 200 flamingo chicks were then housed at the faculty’s veterinary hospital.  Staff and students have been looking after the chicks, which were divided into groups of 50. “With our available veterinary expertise and facilities, we took in all of the most compromised birds, diagnosed and stabilised them and then sent them to other facilities such as the Montecasino Bird Garden and Lory Park Zoo for hand rearing,” said Dr Koeppel.

Initially the chicks needed 24-hour care and feeding every two hours during the night, which gradually became two to three times a day.

Conceding that it has been the most challenging time for the team, Dr Koeppel said: “We could not have done it without the dedication of veterinary nurses, veterinary students and exotic clinic staff.” She explained that, initially, nine facilities across the country were involved in caring for the chicks. “The Faculty of Veterinary Science’s clinicians and students were involved from day one, and their dedication and passion prevented the loss of many more flamingos.”

She is especially pleased with the recovery of a flamingo chick named Sunshine, which  arrived at Onderstepoort with crop stasis and infection. Crop stasis is when the crop, which leads to the stomach, is no longer functioning, resulting in food accumulating and fermenting in the crop, making the birds very sick and if untreated will result in death. Sunshine  weighed just 50g during week one. “The vets managed to stabilise her and she will now be sent to Montecasino before being taken to Kimberley after she reaches a healthy 500g …and is eating by herself.” 

Flamingos that were cared for by staff, students and volunteers

The vets also had assistance from international veterinarians and veterinary technicians, while local volunteers assisted with caring for the flamingos and supplying food, toys and blankets.

“The future of these flamingo chicks appears to be much rosier than before.  The local authorities in Kimberley and local and international flamingo specialists decided that most of the birds will be returned to Kimberley and 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,” said Dr Koeppel.

The chicks have to be self-feeding and clinically healthy and must weigh at least 500g 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 will be released back into her natural habitat when she is strong enough,” said Dr Koeppel.

Chicks will be housed at the Kimberely SPCA in a purpose- built enclosure for two weeks to acclimatise to local conditions and dam water before being moved to the dam to join the current creche of baby flamingos already there.

Lesser flamingos breed at only four sites in Africa: Etosha Pan, Sua Pan (Botswana), Kamfers Dam (sometimes up to 150 000 flamingos) and Lake Natron (Tanzania).

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


- Author Faculty of Veterinary Science

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