Philadelphia Zoo provides creative medical care to help flamingo chick heal

-Courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo and Aversa PR

On July 12th, a fuzzy flamingo chick hatched at Philadelphia Zoo, the first flamingo to hatch at the Zoo in more than 20 years!  Named Flaco (which was later changed to Flaca after she was confirmed to be a female), the chick seemed to be doing well, behaving and growing normally. However, in late August, keepers and veterinary staff noticed the chick suddenly having trouble standing and using her left leg, an issue that Zoo staff determined needed immediate intervention. The chick was immediately transported to the Zoo’s on-site Animal Health Center for examination and treatment.

“Thanks to our bird keepers who were closely watching the chick, we were able to take Flaca over to the animal hospital and begin working on her immediately,” says Ian Gereg, Vice President of Animal Well- Being. “We typically monitor young animals closely, looking for any changes in activity level or feeding frequency. This close observation helps us to identify potential concerns and respond accordingly.”

After a thorough examination and a series of x-rays, evidence suggested that the issue may have been related to an underlying injury that occurred earlier in the chick’s development. The veterinary staff went to work on a plan that would help the chick to regain use of her foot and leg while continuing to grow normally.

“As you can imagine, a leg injury in a flamingo is always a very serious situation, especially in a young bird,” says Dr. Tim Georoff, the Zoo’s Associate Veterinarian. “A flamingo who is unable to stand or walk normally will often stop eating, and can injure itself further every time it tries to stand up. In addition, if a flamingo has a problem with one leg, the extra load placed on the other ‘good’ leg can actually lead to problems with both legs”.

The quick-thinking and creative team constructed a foot brace to keep the chick’s foot in the correct position, and a body sling was used intermittently during the first day to take much of the pressure off of her legs, ensuring her mobility while strengthening the chick overall. In addition to the brace and body sling the first day, the team used “swim therapy” over the next few days to keep Flaca’s muscles strong and active.

At the same time, the team needed to address the feeding and socialization issues that came as a result of the injury. Veterinary staff took over feeding until she started to eat on her own. To help with socialization, Flaca was housed with a large mirror so she could “mingle” with another flamingo – in this case, her own reflection. Once Flaca was walking well and eating on her own, her mother and father were reunited with her in the hospital for a few days before the family group was moved back to the flamingo exhibit.

Currently, Flaca is doing well – standing, walking and eating on her own, including balancing on her previously injured leg in characteristic flamingo-style fashion. “While we are still keeping a close eye on Flaca to ensure she has fully recovered, we are all really encouraged by her progress,” says Gereg. “I am happy to say that Flaca continues to do well, and she has returned to her flamingo flock with her mother and father. Her successful recovery is due to the quick thinking, and creative teamwork between our keeper and veterinary staff.”

Native to the Caribbean and Central and South America, Caribbean flamingos are sometimes called American flamingos.  Wild Caribbean flamingo populations have significantly rebounded following conservation efforts implemented in the 1990s to protect birds and their sensitive nesting sites, but populations of some other species of flamingo around the world are reported to be declining.

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