Dallas Zoo staff have been lending a hand in South Africa after 1,800 lesser flamingo chicks were found abandoned at their nesting grounds.
Because of severe drought, the adult flamingos left their nests — and chicks and eggs — behind at Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, the capital of South Africa's Northern Cape Province, according to the Dallas Zoo.
The Kimberley location is one of four breeding grounds for the species in Africa and one of five worldwide; the fifth is in India.
"With nearly 20,000 birds nesting at Kamfers Dam, a significant hit to the flock could pose long-term problems for the population without intervention," the zoo said in a prepared statement. "Conservationists are working to implement a detailed plan of action for the future, should a rescue mission like this occur again."
The chicks are being cared for at institutions accredited by the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria, or PAAZA, and other locations in the hope that they can be released back to their natural habitat by late May.
To help with that goal, Dallas has sent to South Africa staff including animal care supervisor Kevin Graham, senior zoologist Julie Farrington, veterinarian Marren Connolly and vet tech Cassandra Reid. More support staff are expected to go to South Africa in the coming weeks.
"We're working 12-hour shifts at the SPCA in Kimberley where the youngest and most critically ill flamingo chicks are being cared for," Graham said in a written statement. "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 Dallas Zoo is also gathering funds in coordination with PAAZA for the effort and has contributed $18,500. Other accredited facilities in the U.S. have contributed close to $20,000, the zoo said.
Harrison Edell, the Dallas Zoo's executive vice president of animal care and conservation, said in a prepared statement that flamingos have "rarely been treated in any significant numbers by wildlife and rehabilitation facilities."
But, he added, zoo staff are "uniquely qualified" to hand-rear the orphaned birds.
More than 30 lesser flamingo chicks call the Dallas Zoo home. The chicks are listed as near-threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species and face threats of habitat destruction and climate change, the zoo said.
Donations may be made to help the rescue effort by visiting https://bit.ly/2GGT8og.