Detroit Zoo staff joins flamingo rescue in South Africa

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Flamingo chicks in South Africa are receiving a little Motown mojo, according to the Detroit Zoo.

The Detroit Zoological Society recently joined other wildlife conservation organizations sending bird-care staff and veterinarians to the nation. They are there to assist emergency rescue and rehabilitation efforts for more than 1,800 birds abandoned in their nesting grounds, officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The flamingo eggs and hatchlings were deserted by their parents due to food shortages related to Kamfers Dam, one of only six wetlands worldwide where lesser flamingos breed, drying up in a season of low rainfall and extreme heat, according to the release. Lesser flamingos are a smaller species found in Africa.

Joining the international rescue effort to ensure the chicks are able to join the wild population by May was Dr. Sarah Woodhouse, a Detroit Zoo veterinarian who had already been in South Africa working with VulPro, a vulture rescue, rehabilitation and conservation group. Days later, Bonnie Van Dam, associate bird curator with the zoo who has years of experience caring for flamingos, followed. 

The pair, expected to remain in South Africa through this week, is working around the clock as part of a team overseeing nearly 40 of the rescued flamingo chicks, feeding the birds four to five times a day and monitoring their health, officials said.

“The chicks are growing and displaying natural instincts such as wading, foraging, bathing and preening,” Woodhouse said a statement. “They require endless emotional and physical effort, but the cuteness factor is a ten out of ten.”

The Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation has posted footage on its Facebook page showing some of the rescued birds.

“These vulnerable flamingo chicks would have died if left in the wild,” said Scott Carter, the society's chief life sciences officer. “The work of DZS animal care staff and others, with their knowledge and experience with flamingos, is invaluable to this rescue. This effort underscores the importance of zoos and aquariums and the work they do to save species around the world.”

The rescue work is expected to be highlighted March 16 during “Saving Birds Around the World,” the group’s annual wildlife conservation gala by Ford Motor Co.