Archive: Detroit Zoological Society Helping with Rescue of Flamingos in South Africa

Massive effort underway to save more than 1,800 abandoned chicks

February 12, 2019

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) and other wildlife conservation organizations worldwide rushed bird care staff and veterinarians to South Africa last week to aid in the emergency rescue and rehabilitation of more than 1,800 lesser flamingo chicks abandoned in their nesting grounds near Kimberly in the Northern Cape.

With a season of little to no rain and extremely high temperatures, Kamfers Dam – one of only six wetlands in the world where lesser flamingos breed – dried up rapidly, causing the flamingo eggs and hatchlings to be deserted by their parents due to lack of food.

DZS veterinarian Dr. Sarah Woodhouse was among the first foreign responders to lend a hand in the massive rescue effort. She was already in South Africa at the time the crisis unfolded, working with VulPro – a vulture rescue, rehabilitation and conservation organization – to conduct health exams on vultures living at VulPro’s center.

Dr. Woodhouse was followed days later by DZS associate bird curator Bonnie Van Dam, who has many years of experience caring for flamingos. The pair are in South Africa through this week, working around the clock alongside care staff from VulPro. Rehabilitation and rescue organizations across Africa and Europe and other accredited U.S. zoos have also mobilized to assist in the months-long rescue to ensure the chicks are able to join the wild population by May. The DZS team is overseeing nearly 40 of the rescued flamingo chicks, feeding the birds four to five times a day and monitoring their health.

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

Visit to see how the fluffy gray chicks are faring.

“These vulnerable flamingo chicks would have died if left in the wild,” said Scott Carter, DZS 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 Detroit Zoological Society has a long history of leading and supporting bird conservation programs throughout the world as well as in Michigan. Its upcoming annual Wildlife Conservation Gala, presented by Ford Motor Company, is themed “Saving Birds Around the World”. Scheduled for March 16, the gala will include a presentation highlighting the DZS’s current rescue work in South Africa, extensive field work with penguins in the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, and long-term work in the Great Lakes region with piping plovers and other avian species. For more information or to purchase tickets to the 21-and-older event, visit