Flamingo chicks get what they need ... and more
Stop sending us eggs, caregivers for threatened birds plead, because they've simply received too many
An avalanche of egg donations to feed hundreds of orphan flamingo chicks has prompted welfare officials to appeal to the public to stop donating food due to an oversupply.
The outpouring of pink flamingo love has also prompted officials to turn away public volunteers at a Cape Town rehabilitation centre run by the SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
More than 2,000 chicks were rescued last week from the Kamfers Dam outside Kimberley – a famous, and crucial, flamingo breeding site – where drought conditions forced adult flamingos to abandon their nests. About 550 chicks were transferred to SANCCOB’s Cape Town facility in Table View, and the rest to other facilities around the country where they are being hand-reared in the hope of returning them to the wild.
“We are completely overrun with volunteers. We’re signed up until March,” said research manager Katta Ludynia, who added that the facility had also been inundated with donations since news of the rescue operation surfaced in the media.
“We have so many eggs that we’ve asked people to please not bring any more,” Ludynia said.
The eggs are used to make delicious smoothies for the hungry chicks – well, delicious by flamingo chick standards (although some of the NSPCA volunteers have been tasting them as part of awareness and fundraising campaigns).
Charitable locals had also arrived to volunteer their washing machines to clean laundry and towels, or to lend a hand in whatever way possible.
Instead, SANCCOB is appealing for financial contributions to pay for drugs and other equipment needed to care for the chicks, many of whom have died or picked up infections during the transfer from the Northern Cape. About a third of the chicks have died since arriving in Cape Town, Ludynia said.
Fortunately, the remainder appear to be recovering, partly thanks to the facility’s new seabird hospital, which features two intensive care units. Birds are shuffled between outdoor holding pens and heated indoor feeding areas where they sometimes snuggle up to donated fluffy toys. One chick even tried feeding from a toy flamingo doll.
Ludynia said flamingos were more fragile than the facility’s main visitor species – penguins caught up in oil spills.
“Lots of the birds arrived very dehydrated, and lots picked up infections. They are so tiny that they don’t really peck, and they are actually very gentle creatures. It’s a lot more pleasant than having to feed 3,000 African penguins,” Ludynia said.
Similar rescue operations are under way at several other facilities, including Cape Town’s World of Birds and uShaka Marine World in Durban.
Local retailers have also answered the call to help the birds, notably Pick n Pay with donations of deveined prawns and sardines.
Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, director of transformation at Pick n Pay, said the chick rescue story “really touched our teams and we are thrilled to be able to help this initiative”.
Ludynia said there was good news this week from the Kamfers Dam, where flamingos are once again starting to breed, possibly due to some recent rainfall.
“At the moment there are still several thousand birds breeding up there, and it has rained in the last few days. We hope that they can pull through,” she said.
Kamfers Dam is one of only three large flamingo breeding sites in Southern Africa. The others have been similarly affected by recent drought conditions.