In January 2019, the picturesque Kamfer Dam in Kimberley, Northwest Province, South Africa, bore witness to one of the most significant bird rescue missions in the country's history. The protagonists of this tale were none other than the elegant Lesser Flamingos, which had, a decade ago, chosen to breed on a specially crafted artificial island within the dam. This marked not only the first instance of the species breeding on an artificial island but also the first recorded breeding in South Africa, making Kamfer Dam the fourth global breeding locality for these magnificent birds.
The breeding behavior of Lesser Flamingos is a marvel in itself. The fluffy chicks, born on the purpose-built island, quickly leave their nests within a few days to join large creches. This behavior is not unique to Kamfer Dam, as other breeding localities in Southern Africa, such as Etosha Pan and Sua Pan, also witness chicks trekking long distances in search of suitable wetlands.
However, the idyllic setting of Kamfer Dam faced threats, both immediate and long-term. The nearby municipal sewage works posed a pollution risk, endangering the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Additionally, plans for the Northgate development and the potential rezoning of adjacent land stirred controversy among conservationists, who sounded alarms that unfortunately fell on deaf ears.
In the early months of 2019, a perfect storm of a changed ecosystem and severe drought led to over a thousand Flamingo chicks being abandoned when desperate adult birds took flight in search of water. This crisis prompted a collaborative effort involving organizations like SANCCOB, Cape Nature, NSPCA, SPCA Kimberley, and over 60 volunteers from the "Saam Staan Kimberley" Facebook group.
The rescuers faced the daunting task of providing specialized care to the surviving Flamingo chicks and hatchlings. These fragile beings had to learn essential survival skills like bathing, preening, eating, and drinking. The dedication of staff and volunteers across nine facilities throughout South Africa played a crucial role in the successful rearing and eventual release of the majority of the Flamingo chicks in September 2019.
Among the facilities contributing to this remarkable effort was Lory Park Zoo in Gauteng, which played a vital role in hand-rearing some of the orphaned chicks. While most of the chicks were successfully rehabilitated, some required additional care and veterinary intervention, becoming so imprinted that releasing them back into the wild was not an option.
In collaboration with Lory Park Zoo, Cape Nature, and DEAT, four such imprinting survivors embarked on a road trip from Midrand, Gauteng, to the Western Cape. Andre de la Rey and Snowflake (A.K.A Tristan Sachses) from Lory Park Zoo undertook the mammoth task of ensuring the birds' welfare during the journey. In May 2023, the "Fabulous Four" were handed over to Isabel Wentzel-Currie, the curator at Birds of Eden.
The release into Birds of Eden proved to be a triumphant moment, as the "Fabulous Four" seamlessly integrated with other resident Flamingos, including Greater Flamingos and Caribbean Flamingos. As the saying goes, "birds of a feather flock together," and in this sanctuary, the Flamingos found not only safety but also a newfound freedom to frolic in the water and stride about their expansive avian haven.
This heartwarming saga stands as another success story for SAASA (South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance), a testament to the collective efforts that can turn sad tales into happy endings for our feathered friends and the natural heritage sites they call home.