Freedom for flamingos used as decor in Dominican hotels

By Maria Montecelos

Montecristi, Dominican Republic, Feb 5 (EFE).- At first light on Sunday, a group of flamingos returned to nature in the mangroves of the Estero Balsa Natural Park, in Montecristi, northern Dominican Republic, rehabilitated after having been used as ornamental decor in hotels.

EFE attended the first release of flamingos from the Rescate Rosado project, in which, after being voluntarily handed over by establishments, six of these migratory birds were returned to their natural habitat and experienced their first dawn in freedom with five others born in the National Zoo.

The birds headed towards the waters of the lagoon while the project team held their breath. The emotion came when the flamingos flapped their wings, went to the water and began to eat (sometimes it is necessary to feed them for a time first).

Their release into the Estero Balsa mangroves, one of the most important in the country and recently incorporated into the Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands, was a success and here they will now live, in a fairly well-preserved area with coastal lagoons where they will find plenty of shelter, food and tranquility.

The young birds raised in the zoo will probably migrate with others in the spring, but the six from the hotels will not be able to do so, because when they are captured, surgery is performed on one wing.

“The last phalanx of one of their wings is removed, which is where the primary feathers are,” and having the primary feathers only on one wing, they lack the necessary balance to fly, said Luis Freites, who is in charge of animal welfare and training at the National Zoo.

Poachers hunt them in the estuaries, where they land every year, trapping them with rustic traps placed at the bottom of the wetlands, barely visible in the water and which environmentalists remove by the hundreds. The birds are then sold on the black market.

The release is preceded by a whole process: once rescued, the flamingos are quarantined at the zoo, where they are evaluated and rehabilitated before being returned to the wild so that they can feed in their natural environment.

“The first thing is to change their diet, because in hotels they are served dog or cat food (…) Here we give them a fish food that is formulated with many crustaceans” and enriched with nutrients and fiber, that “greatly improves their color” because the characteristic pink plumage is due to their diet, Freites said.

In addition, blood samples are taken, their respiratory system is checked for pathogens so that they do not carry microbes into their new habitat and, before their release, a final test is carried out.

For 20 years, the Ministry of the Environment’s fight against poaching focused on controlling the possession of these birds, but the method was not effective, so in 2020 an alternative was proposed and the blue flag certification for hotels emerged, Vice Minister of Protected Areas and Biodiversity Federico Franco told EFE.

These establishments, “instead of having flamingos to decorate them,” hold a certificate of their respect for wildlife, and thus began the Rescate Rosado project, he said.

The Iberostar Group and Viva Resort were the first to join the initiative, designed so that, in addition to delivering the animals, the hotel covers their food, vaccinations and transportation.

For this, a contract was made between the Ministry of the Environment, the National Zoo and the Alianza Animal bird-watching NGO, to which the hotels make the donation to cover expenses, Franco said.

Rescate Rosado will release an average of between 25 and 35 flamingos per month until reaching the more than 200 counted in Dominican hotels over 10 months, although it is estimated that there may be as many as 350 flamingos in captivity in the country.

The ministry trusts there will be a knock-on effect with the hotels, which will have about a year to hand over the flamingos voluntarily. After that, establishments and individuals that deprive the flamingos of their freedom will be sanctioned. EFE


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