Home to thousands of lesser flamingos, it’s not uncommon for an aerial view of South Africa’s Kamfers Dam to take on a shade of pink.
But a drought in early 2019 caused parents to abandon more than 1,800 flamingo chicks — some only a few days after hatching. An international rescue mission ensued, including Indianapolis Zoo’s own Senior Keeper Dana Lambert packing bags for her first trip out of the country.
Chicks were sent to wildlife centers across the country, including the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), where Dana found herself caring for nearly 100 of the fluffy gray babies.
Volunteers joined from around the world, including Germany, Italy and the UK, sharing their knowledge and experience to ensure the fragile birds improved swiftly and grew steadily.
“To be part of a big effort that was globally recognized was really an amazing, important adventure for me,” Dana said.
Days filled with routine health checks — weighing and providing any medications — feeds, moving birds into outdoor yards, filling out records and cleaning. Caretakers wore pink sleeves and black gloves to mimic the color of adult flamingos, paying special attention to limit speaking and interactions so the chicks didn’t imprint on humans and could successfully make their way back to their original habitat.
“These 94 birds of a near threatened species get to have a life, and their genetics will add to the population. It’s a big deal,” Dana said.
And it all comes to a happy ending. The chicks that were part of SANCCOB’s rehabilitation have been released back into the wild, where rainfall has now reestablished necessary habitat, bringing back adults and other young birds for the chicks to join.
To find out more about the project from Dana (plus, see some adorable flamingo chicks) in this video.
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