Caretakers Work Around the Clock to Save Abandoned Flamingo Chicks

Parent flamingos abandoned their chicks in sweltering heat. Carly Morgan/National Aviary

Volunteers are working to save the lives of 2,000 lesser flamingo chicks after the babies were abandoned by their parents.

The tiny birds were left behind at South Africa's Kamfers Dam, located in the Northern Cape province, after the dam went dry due to drought conditions. Now, wildlife rescue groups and zoos around the world are chipping in to help them.

In need of help

The situation started in late January, when volunteers realized the dam was going dry and that adult flamingos had fled. A video of the site shows the ground of the dam completely dry, and the nests little more than dusty mounds. Around 2,000 chicks were rescued from the site, and transported 590 miles (950 kilometers) to care centers in Cape Town.

South Africa's Kimberley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) took in around 800 chicks, while the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) took in another 550.

Katta Ludynia, research manager at SANCCOB, tells CNN the chicks were in rough shape when they arrived.

"These chicks arrived in a very bad condition since a lot of them were dehydrated, they were tiny — some of them were just coming out of their eggs — so we had a little bit of a problem with infections," she says.

Prawn and sardine smoothies

Baby flamingos gather in the sun at a care center in South Africa
Teri Grendzinski of the National Aviary hand feeds a flamingo chick. Carly Morgan/National Aviary

Some of the chicks require feeding every three hours or so, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report. Volunteers blend together flamingo-meal smoothies of prawns, sardines, hard-boiled egg yolks and baby formula to replace the food the birds normally receive from their parents. The chicks must be weighed individually to determine how much food they actually need.

In addition to feeding and cleaning the chicks, volunteers are also teaching the babies the skills they'll need when they re-enter the wild. Part of that process, according to an emailed statement from the National Aviary — a Pittsburgh-based zoo dedicated to birds — is making sure the birds don't imprint on the volunteers.

"These chicks will be with SANCCOB for probably another three to four months until they're ready to be released back into the wild," Ludynia tells CNN.

The National Aviary and the Dallas Zoo both sent specialists to South Africa to help care for the chicks.

'Extremely rewarding work'

Flamingo chicks gather in the sun
The flamingos are getting plenty of sun. Carly Morgan/National Aviary

"We're working 12-hour shifts at the SPCA in Kimberley where the youngest and most critically ill flamingo chicks are being cared for," Dallas Zoo animal-care supervisor Kevin Graham says in a statement reported by the Dallas Morning News. "We hand feed the chicks every few hours and are constantly monitoring their health. We are running on very little sleep, but it's extremely rewarding work knowing we're keeping these incredible birds alive."

The chicks seem to be doing well. Videos shared by the National Aviary show the baby flamingos playing in water.

Or just getting some sun. As you can see in the video below, one is already practicing how to stand on one leg.

If you would like to donate to help the centers care for the chicks, visit this link.