Maryland Zoo helps rescue South African flamingo chicks

Gray, fluffy and abandoned on the banks of a drying lake, thousands of flamingo chicks were airlifted from their South African habitat to rescues across the country in an attempt to save them after a drought ravaged their nesting grounds.

The Maryland Zoo was among those who went to help.


The zoo sent Jess Phillips, area manager for the Baltimore facility’s Penguin Coast exhibit, to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape Town, one of several rescues where 285 lesser flamingo chicks were transported.

The baby birds were among more than 1,800 abandoned by their parents at Kamfers Dam, where a 1,200-acre lake began to dry up and left adult flamingos without food to feed their young.

“Kamfers Dam is one of the most important breeding sites for lesser flamingos in southern Africa,” Phillips said in a statement. “To see adults abandon their nests, leaving eggs and chicks behind, is devastating, and when our colleagues at SANCCOB reached out to us for help, we quickly mobilized an emergency response.”

The chicks arrived at the Cape Town rescue Jan. 28, and Phillips followed Feb. 1. He supervises a group of 75 to 100 chicks daily — feeding the birds every three hours, monitoring their health, cleaning their pens and moving them between indoor and outdoor enclosures.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has partnered previously with the South African rescue to rehabilitate and release African penguins.

“Over the years we have focused efforts here at the Zoo on topnotch animal care and breeding, cutting edge medical care and research, and creating strong education programs for raising awareness and making connections with our guests in regards to wildlife and the challenges they face in the wild,” Dr. Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s senior director of animal health, conservation and research, said in a statement. “Sending staff to assist our partners in emergency situations such as this is just one way we can focus on conservation action for wildlife and supporting our conservation partnerships.”

Native to southern and eastern Africa and southwest Asia, lesser flamingos are one of six flamingo species in the world. They’re listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species.

Though the chicks are now gray and downy, they will eventually grow into the pink birds whose plastic likenesses decorate lawns in Baltimore and beyond.