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Flamingo chicks come home

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“They will hopefully be released in about two weeks, although it is difficult to put an exact time frame on their release.”

Picture: Danie van der Lith

WHEN the SA Airlink flight landed at the Kimberley Airport shortly after 7am yesterday morning, there were some very special passengers on board – 51 to be exact.

These were the first batch of flamingo chicks returning home to Kimberley from the National Zoological Gardens in Johannesburg. The special passengers were accompanied on their flight by Dr Katja Koeppel, a veterinary wildlife specialist at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Science, and were met at the airport by local vet, Dr Donavon Smith, and the SPCA’s Mario van der Westhuizen.

Just a few hours later, the next batch of 78 chicks, this time from Ushaka in kwaZulu Natal, arrived on a flight sponsored by Ekapa Mining.

Linja Allen, CEO of the NPO Saam Staan Kimberley, who spearheaded the initial rescue, said yesterday that the chicks would be kept at the quarantine facility specially built at the SPCA until their release at Kamfers Dam.

“They will hopefully be released in about two weeks, although it is difficult to put an exact timeframe on their release.”

In the meantime the chicks, that have all been microchipped, were also tagged on their arrival in Kimberley and will be monitored by Dr Smith, together with a vet-tech from America.

“Unfortunately they are in quarantine currently, so members of the public will only be allowed to view them from outside,” Allen added.

She said that the surviving chicks would be returned in batches, as and when they met predetermined criteria regarding their weight and health, and would be housed at the Kimberley SPCA in the specifically-designed holding pens to acclimatise before being released at Kamfers Dam.

And while prawns are not on the menu this time for the rescued chicks, they are being fed specialist nutritional pellets, designed for flamingos, with added carophyll which aids in promoting bright vibrant colouring.

“One of the stipulated criteria for the returning chicks is that they must be self-feeding,” Allen explained.

Nearly 2 000 flamingo chicks were removed from Kamfers Dam at the beginning of February when it was found that they were facing “almost certain death” after being abandoned by their parents due to receding water levels.

Following the emergency evacuation, these flamingo chicks were airlifted and moved to various rehabilitation centres throughout South Africa where they have been cared for and hand-fed since.

Meanwhile Tania Anderson, who is monitoring the flamingos at Kamfers Dam, said the dam was currently very suitable for Lesser Flamingos (sufficient water, and abundant blue-green algae food) and was supporting over 10 000 adults and 5 000 chicks/juveniles. “It can easily support another 800 more chicks.”

She added that the sewage inflow was constant, keeping the water level fairly stable, and would increase from early May (when the sewage infrastructure repair has been completed) to keep the water level stable in the future.

“Should algae concentration drop in late winter, as it sometimes does, the juveniles will all be ready to fly to other wetlands as soon as they need to. They are not permanently dependent on Kamfers Dam and Lesser Flamingos move around very extensively in southern Africa.”

Anderson stated that many experts agreed that the captive flamingos should be released at Kamfers Dam soon as this would increase their likelihood of survival, especially if they are integrated into the creches of juvenile birds.

“There’s a window of opportunity for the captive birds to learn from the similar-aged wild birds and follow the flock when they fly to Sua Pan or elsewhere,” she stated. “The current and future well-being of the rescued chicks is what we all want, and so to give them the best life they should be released soon so that they can integrate with their 5 000 peers at Kamfers Dam and learn flock social life sooner rather than later.”