In Depth

Conservationists fight to save 2,000 baby flamingos evacuated from dried-out dam

The birds are being hand-reared by volunteers around Cape Town

Volunteers and conservationists are battling to save 2,000 baby flamingo chicks rescued from a dried-out reservoir in drought-hit South Africa.

Around 2,000 Lesser Flamingo juveniles were airlifted from the Kamfers Dam, near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, after being deserted by their parents as dam waters dried up. The chicks were transported almost 600 miles, by plane and by car, to a variety of locations around Cape Town.

Nicky Stander, rehabilitation manager at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), said her team immediately took action after hearing about the birds’ plight in January. The foundation “works toward the rehabilitation and release of the birds” back into the wild, says CNN.

“As time goes on and they grow, we are going to have to adapt the way that we house them and make sure that they have long running space, so they can exercise their legs,” Stander told the news network.

A number of the fragile birds are being cared for in incubators at the foundation’s rescue centre in Cape Town.

“These chicks arrived in a very bad condition since a lot of them were dehydrated, they were tiny - some of them were just coming out of their eggs - so we had a little bit of a problem with infections,” said SANCCOB research manager Katta Ludynia.

But she added that are all now stabilised, and are getting medical treatment and regular feeds of egg yolks, baby formula, prawns and fish. The chicks are also fed electrolyte fluids to aid their rehydration.

The conservationists hope to “release the chicks in Kimberley or in the Western Cape after three or four months, by when the birds would have gained their strength and grown enough to be released”, reports the International Business Times.

The team learned last month that excessive heat was causing birds’ eggs in the reservoir “to lose their cool, moist protective covers”, and the inner membranes to harden, says Sky News.

The change in the shells made it difficult for baby flamingos to peck their way out, and “predators such as meerkats, dogs and hawks” were waiting for the exhausted chicks, further cutting their odds of survival, the broadcaster adds.

Nevertheless, “some conservation experts have questioned the decision to intervene”, reports The Guardian.

“These endearing little birds were apparently left stranded and dying by their parents as the waters of the dam dried up,” said Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa.

“[But] was the decision to step in and remove the abandoned chicks and eggs the right one? Who made this decision, under what authority and in terms of what expertise?”

Despite such doubts, SANCCOB volunteer Leslie Ernst said that she and fellow helpers were determined to do their best for the rescued chicks.

“They’re super-delicate-feeling. Every time I go to bed I still feel them in my hands,” she said. “I think we all feel very motherly towards them all.”

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