April 30, 2019

Flocking to Help

Denver Zoo Has Joined an International Effort to Rescue and Rehabilitate More Than 1,800 Flamingo Chicks and Unhatched Eggs


It should have been a cause for celebration. In January, thousands of lesser flamingo eggs were waiting to hatch at Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, South Africa. For a near-threatened species, thousands of chicks would be a boon for the species. But when severe drought hit the area, the adult flamingos were forced to leave in search of food and water, leaving nearly 1,80chicks and unhatched eggs behind.  

Local conservation agencies swooped in to help the vulnerable birds and the chicks and unhatched eggs were sent to animal hospitals and rescue centers around the country. With so many birds to care for, volunteers from zoos around the world flocked to South Africa to help nurse the flamingos back to health. Denver Zoo is one of a group of AZA-accredited zoos that has committed resources and animal care and health experts to assist in the rescue and rehabilitation effort.  

“We have staff with expertise in both veterinary medicine and hand-rearing flamingos who we knew could provide critical support to help ensure the survival of these birds in crisis,” said Brian Aucone, Senior Vice President for Animal Sciences. “As a conservation and animal care-based organization, this fits our mission to help wildlife, whether that be through our five conservation programs we run around the world, or rapid-response projects like this.  

Denver Zoo Veterinary Technician Eva Smoot traveled to South Africa in March, working with flamingo chicks at the University of Pretoria animal hospital. Smoot says flamingos at her site were dealing with serious health problems, including broken legs, lesions and malnutrition.  

“I didn’t even know the impact I would have until I got there and seeing how they responded to it and seeing how much help they needed,” said Smoot. “Most days it would just be me manning the fort, feeding, weighing and caring for the birds. It was a lot of work, but also incredibly rewarding.”  

In her two weeks at the hospital, Smoot estimates she cared for nearly 50 flamingos, with the goal of getting the birds healthy enough to be released into the lesser flamingo flock In May. Denver Zoo Bird Keeper Anton Morrison departed for Pretoria in mid-April, and Assistant Curator of Birds Katie Vyas will join the efforts in early May.   

Lesser flamingos are currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCN) and are found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of India. To donate and lend your support to the lesser flamingos and other emergency conservation projects around the globe, click here. 



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