Flight attendant saves six imperiled flamingo eggs, later meets chicks

Alaska Airlines flight attendant Amber May was preparing for takeoff from Atlanta to Seattle last summer when a passenger’s call light came on. May hurried over to the passenger.

“She seemed pretty worried,” May said. “She asked, ‘Could you help me to keep some eggs warm?’”

May, 52, was perplexed.

“I’d never been asked something like that before, so at first, I thought she wanted me to heat up some breakfast,” she said.

The passenger explained her odd request: She was a zoo employee who was transporting six delicate Chilean flamingo eggs from Zoo Atlanta to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Her portable incubator had stopped working, endangering the eggs.

“She told me that to keep the eggs alive, she had to keep them warm during the flight,” recalled May, a flight attendant for 10 years. “It was an unusual request.”

May grabbed several pairs of blue rubber gloves from the galley, filled them with warm water and tied them up like balloons.

The zoo employee, who asked that The Washington Post not to identify her, made a little nest around the eggs with the gloves, and when neighboring passengers heard what was going on, several of them offered up their jackets, sweaters and scarves to wrap around the incubator for extra warmth.

“It became a team effort to help save these little flamingo eggs,” May said.

I’d only met my neighbor a few times. When she died I took in her dog.

She and other flight attendants took turns refilling the gloves with warm water throughout the 5½-hour flight. May said the passenger was very relieved.

“When the flight was over, she thanked everyone, and we were all really hopeful that the eggs would make it,” she said.

A spokesperson for Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo said May’s fast actions saved the six chicks’ lives. Four females and two males hatched successfully in September, about a month after the flight.

“We’re so thankful for her quick thinking and kindness, as well as the compassion of other passengers who also stepped in to help,” zoo communications manager Gigi Allianic said in a statement, noting that the chicks were the first Chilean flamingos to hatch at the zoo since 2016.

The new additions have boosted the zoo’s flamingo population to 48— a number that is expected to help raise reproductive success, especially because many of its birds are older and not laying eggs.

The eggs wouldn’t have survived for five hours in a nonfunctioning incubator, Allianic said.

“Loss of habitat is their major threat, and they’re also threatened by pollution, hunting and tourist activity,” he said.

Mining and unregulated tourism has threatened native birds’ nesting, feeding and breeding in Chile’s northern Andean highlands, according to the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group.

An illegal egg-collecting trade has also added to their diminishing numbers, with about 200,000 Chilean flamingos estimated to live in the wild in South America and elsewhere, according to BirdLife International.

The six new flamingos will join the Seattle zoo’s Ambassador Animals program, providing visitors an up-close, educational experience about the importance of protecting the birds, Newberry said.

The Woodland Park Zoo hopes that the six young flamingos will help to grow the flock, given that the zoo’s aging flamingos were no longer breeding, he said.

“We definitely have an aging flock where half of the birds are at least 47 years old,” said Newberry, noting that the average flamingo life span is 20 to 30 years, although some have lived as long as 50.

The eggs laid by younger flamingos at Zoo Atlanta were flown to the Seattle zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan breeding program operated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“Flamingos are certainly more likely to breed in warmer and sunnier climates, so cities like San Diego, Dallas and Atlanta do have an advantage on us there,” Newberry added.

May, who lives in Spokane, Wash., said the zoo invited her to name one of the male chicks and meet all of them in November. Four other chicks — Bernardo, Amaya, Rosales and Gonzo — were named by zoo employees, and another was named Magdalena by the winner of a zoo contest.

“My 6-month-old granddaughter is named Sunny, so I decided that was the perfect name for a flamingo chick,” May said.

She took baby Sunny with her to meet Sunny the flamingo and the other fuzzy flaminglets, and learn about their care in the zoo’s Temperate Forest enclosure that mimics their natural South American habitat.

May said she learned that animal keepers led the baby flamingos on daily walks after they were hatched to help them stretch and strengthen their lanky legs.

She also learned that a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance, and that it would take several years for the birds’ grayish-white downy feathers to turn pink from their diet of algae and brine shrimp.

“Sunny really seemed to enjoy meeting the chicks — I hope to take her back [to the zoo] as often as possible as she grows up,” May said.

When Sunny is older, she said she’s looking forward to explaining to her why she shares a name with a flamingo, and how her grandmother helped save six flamingos at 35,000 feet.

Text taken from: https://www.washingtonpost.com

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