More than 500 abandoned and distressed flamingo chicks were jetted into Cape Town this week as part of a series of mercy flights from Kimberley after water problems threatened their habitat."Hey cutie!" said volunteer Chloe Garland as she gently picked up one of the tiny chicks and rested it on a towel at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) in Flamingo Vlei on the West Coast. The anthrozoology master's degree graduate and conservation specialist softly put a tube into the small beak as the chick perched on her knee. At the other end, she slowly squeezed a tiny dose of antibiotics from a syringe to ward off an infection some of them picked up after they had hatched."Oh no. Is that one dead?" asked Dr Katta Ludynia, research manager at the centre.One chick lay sprawled on its tummy, its head on one of the hundreds of towels going through the laundry room every day to provide hygienic bedding for them in the little hospital wing. Other chicks padded over and poked their beaks at the chick and squawked at it. It raised its head from a nap and staff breathed a sigh of relief as it got up to join the others waddling around busily."Because of the very low water levels in Kamfers Dam (outside Kimberley in the Northern Cape) the birds started to abandon the eggs and chicks," explained Ludynia.The spectacle of the vast colony of the Lesser Flamingo that lives in the Kimberley region makes up one of only three breeding colonies in southern Africa - the other two being in Etosha Pan, Nambia and in Botswana. Emergency wing where the flamingo chicks were checked on arrival at Sanccob (Jenni Evans, News24) Their species is also listed as "nearly threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list, so locals in Kimberley sprang into action to help save them when they noticed that more than 2 000 chicks were in distress. The Kimberley SPCA and NPO Kimberley Staan Saam (Kimberley Stand Together) raised the alarm and helped arrange mercy flights to Pretoria and other facilities in the country which could accommodate them, including uShaka Marine World in Durban.Comment was not immediately available from the busy team, but on their Facebook page they expressed gratitude to all the volunteers, veterinarians and the company that arranged a plane to help transport the chicks. They were also urging people to donate to the organisations who had accepted the chicks, and were also doing "flamingo food" shooters as dares to raise money for the long-term operation.Sanccob, for example, relies almost entirely on donations, although it is always the first port of call for distressed sea birds and sea birds caught in oil slicks.On Monday night, on a flight arranged by a mining company, Sanccob received more than 550 of the tiny flamingo chicks. "Unfortunately, we had quite a few losses," said Ludyna, explaining that the tiny chicks were distressed and dehydrated after they were taken off the dam and transported. The first order of business when they arrived was to weigh and examine them to determine their specific needs and how much food and medication was needed, based on their size."So, the ones that have made it up to today are hopefully the ones that will pull through," she said. But this means for at least four months the centre needs volunteers and donations to help with the round-the-clock medication, care and special food that they need. They are fed a mixture of eggs, shrimps, baby formula and the centre's kitchen was a hive of activity with volunteers weighing out portions.Ironically, last year's worryingly bad breeding and hatching rate for the famous African penguins at Boulder's Beach near Simon's Town meant that the Table View facility was not as full as usual so it could accommodate a few hundred chicks. Ludynia says when the chicks are ready to fledge, they will not be kept in captivity but returned to the wild. Whether it will be Kimberley or Cape Town will be decided on later.Food preparation for the flamingo chicks (Jenni Evans, News24) Sanccob CEO Dr Stephen van der Spuy said in a statement that the adult flamingos were unable to look after the chicks due to the poor conditions at the dam and so the focus was on getting chicks through the critical first few months."This is an unfortunate situation for these chicks but it has definitely sparked the conversation about conservation," he said. Ludynia said the response had been "fantastic", with the phone ringing all day with offers of donations or to help clean and prepare food. They have compiled a wish list which includes free range eggs, towels, bamboo cotton buds, empty ice cream containers, 10ml and 20ml syringes, black bags and blenders. She cautioned volunteers that it would not be a chance to cuddle a flamingo because only trained and experienced people were allowed to do this to avoid any setbacks during the recovery period."But there is definitely enough work for everybody," she said.To help with the Sanccob rescue effort, volunteers must be 18 or older and will be put on a shift that suits them according to a roster.Volunteer, donation and wish list details are available from Wilmie@sanccob.co.za and Hedwich@sanccob.co.za. Anyone who is interested can also call 021 557 6155.