Bird keepers get fit while preparing for flamingo breeding season
Building muscles - Aubrey Tselapedi and Abram Kupa offload clay from the truck.
Dulcie Tau nimbly takes a wheelbarrow full of sand into the Rosy flamingo nesting site.
Front: Immanuel Selema places the wheelbarrow in position for loading, while Johannes Kekana scans the nesting site to locate a spot for offloading. Back: Aubrey Tselapedi and Abram Kupa catch their breaths while waiting for the empty wheelbarrows to arrive.
The keepers' pride and joy - a fluffy newly hatched chick on the nest being tended by its parents.
Each year towards the end of July, Sabrix -- a supplier of clay bricks -- donates clay for the NZG's flamingos in preparation for their breeding season.
A flamingo pair starts building up a mound of mud to use as a nest up to six weeks before the female lays her egg, so it is crucial to make nesting material available for them at precisely the right time.
Flamingo keepers prepare the nesting site by removing weeds, trimming the grass on the edges and ensuring that the drainage point of the site is cleared and at the right level. Existing nests are demarcated and marked on the map or structure of the site to improve nest identification for record keeping.
New nests will be added to the structure or map during the nest building or breeding season. Previous seasons' pairs are checked to confirm that the individuals are still in the collection, as newly established pairs will be added to the existing list.
Next on the agenda is obtaining clay and salt for the nests. Sabrix confirmed that they would once again be donating clay, not only for the Rosy flamingo nests but also for the Greater flamingo nests. The Bird section team plans to build bigger flamingo nests this season as a foundation on which they are hoping that these magnificent birds will continue to build.
Getting clay to the zoo
On 31 July 2012, NZG bird keepers Abram Kupa and Johannes Kekana left the Zoo with driver Frank Makhubela in a flat truck to fetch the clay. On their return, the truck was parked in the enclosure next to the nesting site.
Bird section team members Aubrey Tselapedi, Immanuel Selema, Abram Kupa and Johannes Kekana climbed onto the truck to offload the clay into wheelbarrows. Sarah Chabangu, Grace Nkgweng and Dulcie Tau took the wheelbarrows and offloaded the clay in different spots within the nesting site. The ladies later used spades and rakes to spread the clay evenly. Then the team was swapped around and it was the ladies' turn to get onto the truck!
Team members get to spend four hours together, sharing experiences, catching up on section projects and offering advice on day-to-day challenges. They also use the opportunity to keep each other informed of Zoo activities or events.
"As team leader it is important for me to engage with the team on an informal level, because we see each other as equals during such projects and everyone is free to voice their opinions in a casual manner," says bird curator Sarah Chabangu. "We joke about a lot of things and, more importantly, we laugh together a lot."
The hard work always pays off and the team feels honoured to see their Rosy flamingos building nests, and laying and incubating up to 40 eggs in one season. "It gets even better when we discover the grey, fluffy, newly hatched chicks on the nests with their parents in the morning," Sarah says. "The joy and excitement of the parents makes us feel proud and privileged to work with these birds and experience the different stages of breeding."
By Sarah Chabangu, Bird Curator, NZG
The National Zoological Gardens of
South Africa is a proud facility of
the National Research Foundation