Rare Cuban Flamingos Die in Transit to Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary

According to Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary officials, two (2) Cuban Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) out of a total shipment of 10 died while being shipped from Cuba to Barbados this past week.  The Flamingos are being brought in to anchor the new Marshland Aviary Exhibit at the new Graeme Hall Sanctuary that is currently under development.  

BWIA Airlines had been contracted to provide priority shipping and care for this sensitive cargo, which included BWIA’s obligation to expedite security procedures as appropriate to minimize transit time for the birds.  

The Flamingos were due to arrive in Barbados on board BWIA Flight 414 at 7:50 am, March 4th 2004.  However, the birds did not arrive on the flight, as BWIA did not expedite transfer of the birds from one aircraft to another in Trinidad on the morning of March 4, which ultimately sentenced the birds to a full solar day in confinement awaiting the next flight to Barbados. The ten-hour delay increased their total confinement time to well over 24 hours without water and food, resulting in additional dehydration and stress.   

According to Stuart Heaslet, interim Administrator for the Sanctuary, loss of the birds also meant loss of a breeding pair.  “We are saddened and disappointed,” said Heaslet.  “A 20% loss of our entire Flamingo collection was unnecessary. And I can only begin to imagine the trauma the birds went through during shipment.” 

BWIA officials told Sanctuary animal care personnel that due to “security” concerns in Trinidad, the Flamingos were unable to make a change of planes that would have brought the birds to Barbados early in the morning.

Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary officials were told by BWIA that appropriate care for these birds had been provided in Trinidad during the extended layover, however Sanctuary officials said that this could not have been possible. 

“This isn’t a complicated situation,” said Heaslet.  “Transport of water birds is done all the time, without significant fatalities. We hope we won’t be told that the delay in Trinidad and the resulting deaths were because Flamingos posed a potential security risk to Barbados.”

Upon arrival and inspection by the Government Veterinarian, Dr. Rosina Maitland, one bird was found dead and a second later died during its emergency transport to the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary. The remaining eight birds were established immediately at the Sanctuary under the care of Sanctuary animal care staff.

Night time releases of birds into new habitat are highly dangerous to daytime birds, as they must normally have a chance to become familiar with their new habitat during the day. Due to the delay caused by BWIA, release of the remaining flamingos into their habitat caused Bird staff to be brought in for a night time emergency release of the animals, as they would not have likely survived another night in their carriers. Staff stayed up all night to monitor the animals, rehydrate them, and attempt to calm them – in all cases the birds exhibited massive trauma due to their handling during shipment. Emergency night time lights had to be purchased and installed, and additional bird staff had to be called back in to to help with the night release. 

Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary is monitoring the status of the remaining birds.

UPDATE - January 1, 2010: The remaining 8 flamingos are alive and well at Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary.