Notes from the Field: Holly Ray Reports on Flamingo Rescue in South Africa

OKC Zoo Assistant Birds Curator Holly Ray shares her conservation field work experience rescuing flamingos in South Africa...

Flamingos being fed in South Africa

In January, a severe drought dried out Kamfers Dam which is located in Kimberly, South Africa. Kamfers Dam is a very important breeding site for lesser flamingos, it is the location of one of only four lesser flamingo breeding sites in Africa. Due to the lack of water at the dam, adult flamingos abandoned their nests leaving nearly 2,000 eggs and flamingo chicks behind. Flamingo experts all around the world met and discussed the catastrophic event of the lesser flamingo chicks and it was decided that the chicks would be rescued and distributed for care across seven facilities in South Africa.

Holly Ray working with flamingos

Many zoos and aquariums decided to lend their support. The Oklahoma City Zoo made a $6,000 donation from the Round Up for Conservation emergency fund to support the rescue efforts. They also were able to commit to send staff to help in the conservation upheaval. I was able to travel to South Africa at the end of March, and was a part of a four-person Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) team. 

I was stationed at Lory Park Zoo in Midrand, South Africa for two weeks to help care for 113 abandoned lesser flamingo chicks. Lory Park was the only facility among the rescue centers that were able to house separate groups of flamingos, because of this, all of the flamingos that had avian poxvirus were transferred to Lory Park. When I arrived at the zoo, there were only 11 active avian poxvirus cases. 

Rescued flamingos in South Africa

Our daily work shifts were from 6am to 6pm, the day consisted of preparing diet, both formula and free feed diet, cleaning their habitat and holding areas, medicating and obtaining daily weights. It would take an hour to prepare the flamingo formula for tube feeding feeding sessions, which occurred three times a day. Since the birds were around seven weeks old, a large majority had begun self-feeding, this factor is an essential release component for the project. During my time at Lory Park, we spent a majority of our time encouraging the birds to self-feed by continuously refreshing their feed trays, which totaled 21 trays altogether.

Holly Ray weighing flamingos

We were successfully able to ween over 90 percent of the birds. Obtaining daily weights on all birds would take anywhere from 1 1/2- 2 hours depending on the amount of volunteers present for the weight checks. I was also able to participate in the vet check up, where 28 of our 113 birds met all of the criteria needed for release. It was decided that our birds, along with other birds approved for release from other facilities, would be transported to Kimberly to begin the first stages of release at Kamfers Dam to be reintroduced to the current wild population residing at the dam. This was an exciting moment for all of us working with this flock: participating in a conservation initiative and seeing your effect is extremely rewarding.

It is vital for institutions like the Oklahoma City Zoo to get involve in conservation efforts and lend support whenever possible to efforts like the Lesser Flamingo Project. I am so grateful that the Oklahoma City Zoo gave me the opportunity to travel to South Africa to help hand-rear the lesser flamingo chicks.

Holly Ray

-Holly Ray, assistant birds curator

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