Lesser Flamingos in South Africa

Credits: Denver Zoo

Recently in South Africa, there has been an emergency rescue to help the Lesser Flamingos, a smaller type of flamingos. The rescue went underway in January. The dam drying up was caused by the intense drought and mechanical errors with Kamfers Dam. Many baby chicks and unhatched eggs were abandoned by their parents. They were overheated and exhausted. Fortunately, volunteers from America and Europe came to help. Within the group of volunteers, staff from the Denver Zoo, Anton Morrison, Eva Smoot and Katie Vyas came to the rescue. During an interview with a volunteer and Birdkeeper for the Denver Zoo, Anton Morrison provided insight about his experience in South Africa helping the Lesser Flamingo chicks.

When asked about his reaction to hearing about the Lesser Flamingos, Anton said that it

A Lesser Flamingo chick being cared for at the University of Pretoria (Credits: Denver Zoo)

was crazy to think that this was happening in real life and real time. He explained that the Disney nature film, “Crimson Wings” was similar to what was happening in South Africa. It talked about the adult flamingos abandoning the chicks that were too small to move around or the chicks that weren’t hatched. As for the flamingos that could move around on their own and were older, their parents brought them to water where they could access their food source: blue green algae. With the water drying up, the flamingos’ food source went away causing them to need to move on in order to survive.

He explained that when he first arrived in South Africa, the people that were working around him had to do their normal jobs AND helping the flamingo chicks. There was also a holiday the first week that he arrived, causing people to be constantly in and out of the hospital where they treated the birds. Some of Anton’s jobs included tube feeding the chicks and monitoring as well as his normal jobs at the Denver Zoo: cleaning and making sure they had fresh food and water.

Anton said that in the beginning, the volunteers brought in over 2,000 flamingo chicks. He explained that the Lesser Flamingo is the most numerous species of flamingo in the world but they only have six historic breeding grounds, two in India and four in Africa. Unfortunately, the flamingos bred only in one of those places this year. Because of this, it was even more important that the flamingos became healthy and could be released back

A Lesser Flamingo chick in South Africa (Credits: Denver Zoo)

into the wild. Anton said that an emergency rescue has happened with other species but never with flamingos. If this keeps happening, the flamingos could have sudden drops in their population, causing them to slowly become extinct even though their current population at its peak is around two million individuals. The Lesser Flamingo species is currently listed as near threatened.

Though this rescue has required many supplies, resources and time; Anton said that it was very rewarding to see the start of the flamingo chick be released back into the wild. He has been treating the chicks since Day 1; seeing them in critical condition and requiring special attention and medical needs up until the chicks starting to get healthy and eating on their own. “It’s so amazing..it seemed unreal..it’s an amazing feeling and it just shows how much zoos try to help animals get back into the wild…” says Anton about how rewarding it is to see the flamingos be released.

“I knew that this was exactly what I was made for…I know it sounds corny, but it felt like everything I’ve done kinda led up to me being able to go help out there…” – Anton Morrison