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June 2010 
Inside this issue ...
Holiday courses!
Culture comes to the vultures
Urban biodiversity?
Dr Emily Lane wins award
Director's comment
New arrival at Emerald Animal World
Stringent measures protect King penguins
NZG staff master penguin conservation skills
Maintaining an inland marine aquarium can be challenging!
First genetic assessment of pangolins in SA
Outbreak of deadly primate disease controlled
NZG hosts wildlife medicine courses for vets
ZooClub members investigate SA's biomes
Conservation Grapevine
World governments fail to halt biodiversity loss
Lions targeted for Chinese 'medicines'

 
The Chilean flamingo breeding site at Emerald Animal World, a satellite zoo of the NZG.
 
A Chilean flamingo watches over her chalky white egg in a mud mound.
 
The parents protectively guard their little ball of fluff.
 
The beak of the chick is straight at birth to enable its parents to feed it properly. The beak starts curving after a few months.
 
Chilean flamingos are filter feeders - the beak serves as a strainer, filtering mud and water out while trapping food particles.
Much anticipated new arrival at Emerald Animal World

Petro Botha, General Curator, Emerald Animal World

After nine years, Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) are finally breeding successfully at Emerald Animal World in Vanderbijlpark, a satellite zoo of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa.

For the first time since the opening of Emerald Animal World in 2001, a chick hatched on 12 April 2010. Five other breeding pairs are still incubating their eggs. The birds mated during February and March after a courtship ritual of synchronized dancing, preening and neck stretching.

The breeding flamingo females each laid a single chalky white egg in a mud mound. Both parents incubate the egg, which takes 27 to 31 days to hatch. After the chick has hatched, it is fed "crop milk" which comes from the parents' upper digestive tract. The beak of the chick is straight at birth so that its parents are able to feed it. The beak starts curving after a few months.

It is still not certain why it took the Chilean flamingos nine years to breed successfully at Emerald Animal World, although they were clearly not satisfied with their initial breeding site.

When staff noticed that the flamingos were building mud mounds in a protected corner on the opposite side of the original breeding site, it was clear that they didn't feel safe to breed in the open area. The new breeding area chosen by the flamingos was prepared with salt and clay soil donated by brick and paving manufacturer Corobrik. Staff members were excited when the first egg was laid at the new site in 2009, but the egg was found broken a few days later.

Mirror trick

More clay and salt were moved in and this time two sponsored mirrors were put up next to the breeding site to create an illusion of a bigger flock of flamingos. With great excitement, staff witnessed more breeding pairs laying eggs. The breeding site suddenly seemed too small as breeding pairs started fighting over mud mounts. Emerald Animal World plans to enlarge the breeding site for next year's breeding season.

When flamingo chicks are old enough to walk, they usually gather in crèches watched over by a few adult birds. They grow into their adult plumage after about two years and become sexually mature at six years of age. The typical lifespan of a flamingo in captivity is 40 years.

The Chilean flamingo is listed on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II, which lists species that are in need of protection and are considered to be threatened and likely to become endangered if trade is not regulated. All flamingo populations could easily experience a decline as large flock numbers are necessary for proper breeding, and their wetland habitats are fragile. Humans constitute the most serious threat to these birds, either through direct misuse of their habitat or indirect damage such as changing the characteristics of the land.

This large species of South American flamingo is closely related to the Greater flamingo of South Africa and can be differentiated by its greyish legs with pink ankles. They are gregarious and live in flocks, naturally ranging from Peru to southern Argentina and Chile, including parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and southern Brazil. These beautiful birds are filter feeders and fun to watch. The curved beak serves as a strainer, filtering mud and water out while trapping food particles. The characteristic pink colouring of flamingos is caused by the beta carotene in their diet.

In South Africa, both the Greater and Lesser Flamingos occur at several Northern Cape wetlands. Kamfers Dam, a large perennial wetland just north of Kimberley, probably supports the largest permanent population of Lesser Flamingos in southern Africa. The Kamfers Dam flamingos are threatened by several factors including poor water quality as a result of untreated sewage flowing into it.

For more information, contact Petro Botha at petrob@emeraldcasino.co.za.