Volunteers care for more than 2,000 baby flamingos left to die by their parents
Volunteers hope to teach the chicks the skills they will need to be released back to the wild. (Facebook: SANCCOB Saves Seabirds)
Thousands of lesser flamingo chicks are being raised by humans after they were abandoned by their parents at a South African dam.
- Around 2,000 chicks have been plucked from dry nests at Kamfers Dam
- Volunteers are feeding the baby birds a fishy smoothie as often as every three hours
- South Africa’s government cautions rescuers to avoid destroying the colony
When Kamfers Dam’s water level dropped, some adult lesser flamingos took off and left their defenceless, dependent young behind.
The situation began to worsen in late January, when the Kimberley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) branch rescued 880 chicks from the dam.
A few days later, volunteers with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) took in 500 chicks.
Some were transferred from the area to rehabilitation centres by aeroplane.
Video posted to the Saam Staan Kimberly Facebook page shows thousands of empty nests in the dried dam bed, with volunteers going around to each of the sun-hardened mounds checking for chicks.
Facebook video of Kamfers Dam rescue: It is clear to see just how far the water levels have dropped & the task that is still ahead to safely recover the remaining hatchlings… more footage to follow.
It is difficult to determine the exact number of chicks left behind, however local reports suggest the figure is higher than 2,000.
A gruelling feeding schedule
A SANCCOB spokesperson said volunteers were “working around the clock” to care for the hungry birds.
Taking on parental duties is a demanding schedule for volunteers, with some chicks requiring feeding as often as every three hours.
Wildlife groups are blending up smoothies of prawns, sardines, hard-boiled egg yolks and baby formula as a substitute for the food flamingo parents would regurgitate into their chicks’ mouths in nature.
As the chicks grow, experts need to weigh them individually to calculate how much feed they need.
On top of keeping the babies fed and hydrated, volunteers are teaching them the skills they will need once they are released back in the wild.
Birds are given access to water troughs and are let out to wander in the sunshine.
Facebook video from SANCCOB saves seabirds: Here’s a sneak peek of the rescued Kamfersdam FlamingoChicks being allowed access to sunlight & water baths for a short time each day to bath & preen. It also teaches them to eat & drink by themselves to reduce the number of hand-feeds each day and so minimise overall handling of the birds.
SANCCOB says weak birds are being closely monitored and given intensive care, but many chicks are regaining their strength.
Was it right to rescue the chicks?
BirdLife South Africa chief executive Mark Anderson, who has been involved in monitoring the dam breeding site for 30 years, praised the work of welfare groups but questioned the circumstances under which the chicks were rescued.
“Was the decision to step in and remove the abandoned chicks and eggs the right one?” he said in a statement on Facebook.
“Did the activity of the rescue parties working so closely to the flamingos still actively tending nests have a further, deleterious effect on the colony?”
He said it still was not clear why the chicks were abandoned and asserted that thousands of other flamingo families were thriving in the area.
“We are happy to report that the colony is still healthy, vibrant and productive,” he said.
“There are thousands of free-ranging chicks gamboling around excitedly or huddling in creches set up around the main breeding area, being watched over by a network of attendant adults and regularly fed by their parents.
“What these birds need right now is to be watched carefully, but otherwise left well alone to proceed with their breeding season as smoothly and naturally as possible.
“While there are still serious concerns about the dam continuing to dry up, there has recently been a significant fall of rain which resulted in the colony once again being surrounded by water.”
Earlier this month, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs welcomed the rescue missions, stressing the need not to destroy the habitat in the process.
“Any action taken to rescue these birds needs to take place in a coordinated manner,” a departmental spokesperson said.
“It is important that the coordinated rescue and release of the birds back into the wild are led by experts that are familiar with the species in captivity as well as the behaviour of the birds in the wild.”
SANCCOB says the birds are beginning to regain their strength. (Facebook: SANCCOB Saves Seabirds)