Conservation Efforts for Fabulous Flamingos
In the wild, Chilean flamingos live in large flocks of up to tens of thousands of individuals. They live in brackish and freshwater areas, such as salt flats, lagoons and estuaries. They’re native to several countries in South American, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.
Something interesting about flamingos is the structure of their leg. Flamingos are famous for standing on one leg, something they can do for hours at a time. This posture looks awkward to humans, but scientists believe it’s easier for them than standing on two. To us, flamingos’ knees look like they are bending backward, but the joint we see is actually their ankle. We don’t see their knees, which are higher up, closer to their feathers.
In addition to being more comfortable, standing on one leg can help flamingos with body temperature regulation. Water causes heat loss faster than air, so leaving both feet in the water would cause flamingo to lose heat more quickly. Leaving only one foot in the water helps flamingos regulate their heat loss and maintain a healthy body temperature.
How Reid Park Zoo Helps Flamingos
Reid Park Zoo heads the Saving Animals From Extinction (also known as SAFE) program for Andean Highland Flamingos, which includes Chilean flamingos, Andean flamingos, and James’ flamingos. Run through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this program is focused on conservation actions to help flamingo populations in the wild. One of the current goals of this project is to gather data about wild populations by placing GPS trackers on individual flamingos. By studying their movements over time, researchers can better understand their behaviors and can develop more effective conservation strategies.
As a part of AZA, Reid Park Zoo also participates in Species Survival Plans. The SSP for Chilean flamingos keeps track of all Chilean flamingos living in AZA zoos and aquaria. Its goal is to ensure a healthy and stable population of these animals within human care. This can also aid in conservation of wild populations because flamingos in zoos are easier to study than their wild counterparts. The data from flamingos in zoos can be extrapolated and applied to wild flamingos.
By supporting the Zoo, you are helping to support flamingos both in human care and in the wild.
How you can help flamingos
One of the biggest threats to flamingo populations in the wild is lithium mining. Lithium is a substance used in batteries for all kinds of electronic devices, from cell phones to cars. It is often found in the salt flats that flamingos call home. Mining requires pumping brine, which contains lithium, to the surface of the salt flat and letting it evaporate, leaving the lithium behind. This evaporation can take years depending on climate, and creates long-term problems for flamingos by harming the habitat on which they depend.
One way to help flamingos is to buy lithium-containing electronic devices only when necessary, not just when there’s a new version out. You can also support companies who recycle lithium, which is possible but not widely done due to its expense and inefficiency. Finally, you can support companies who try to harvest lithium sustainably, without harming flamingo habitat. Small steps such as these help flamingos survive and thrive in the wild.