As It Happens

Baby flamingos airlifted from drought-stricken breeding ground in South Africa

Thousands of baby flamingos were airlifted to safety in South Africa, after their breeding ground ran dry due to drought.

Thousands of birds are now recovering at facilities across the country

Rescued flamingo chicks at a centre in Pretoria, South Africa, after being airlifted from a dried out dam in Kimberley, South Africa. (Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

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In a good year, the Kamfers Dam in South Africa is a sea of hot pink as thousands of flamingos descend on the spot to breed.

But this year, due in part to severe drought, thousands of the birds were recently evacuated from the dam.

"With the current drought that we are experiencing in southern Africa, these areas seldom have water — so the birds struggle to breed there," Katta Ludynia, research manager for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Ludynia's facility is just one of a network across South Africa that are now caring for thousands of lesser flamingo chicks that were airlifted from the dam after they were abandoned.

A newly born flamingo chick struggles to walk on the dried out dam. (Associated Press)

"The parents have to move to feed themselves. They move to an area where there is water and they leave their chicks behind," Ludynia said. 

"These chicks are tiny. They are literally the size of a freshly hatched chicken chick."

Local organizations first stepped in to rescue the birds. But Ludynia says when they realized the scale of the problem, they put out a call for help across the country.

A volunteer collects flamingo chicks at the Kamfer Dam, in Kimberley, South Africa. (Associated Press)

A local mining company provided a plane to transport the flamingos to the different facilities.

"We actually had — it might have been the CEO — down at our centre visiting us the other day and he just has a very soft spot for the flamingos," Ludynia said. 

"So he just wanted to help where he can and he offered his plane."

About 500 birds have arrived at Ludynia's centre and the staff are now hand-rearing the chicks that survived back to health. 

"The chicks that have made it so far now, that have survived the first week, we're pretty positive that these will actually make it through," Ludynia said.

"In the first 24 hours, we lost quite a few because of the state at which they arrived at our centre. A lot of the birds were dehydrated and in very bad conditions when they arrived."

A rescued flamingo chick climbs out of a box. Ludynia says some of the birds became overheated in the boxes during the airlift. (Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

Ludynia says low water levels at the dam are partly due to a lack of rainfall. But that city planning is also exacerbating the problem.

"Kimberley, the city that is next the dam, usually lets its effluent water from the sewage works run into the dam," Ludynia said.

"There seems to be some mismanagement of the sewage works, of the treatment work, so currently there's no water basically from the city running into the dam."

With few breeding grounds and longer dry spells, Ludynia says species like the lesser flamingo are at risk. (Associated Press)

Ludynia says the centre has been overrun with volunteers and remains hopeful that most of the birds will be released once they recover.

Although hopeful, Ludynia also acknowledges that short term solutions can only go so far and says that with so few breeding grounds left the species is at risk as these dry spells increase.

Written by John McGill. Interview produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.


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