BAY LAKE, Fla. – Among the pink and white water birds living near the base of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the quaint and lanky lesser flamingo, a species native to Africa and India and the smallest kind of flamingo around.
Though the flock at DAK has built nests on a seasonal basis — taking form as a tall mud mound, meant to keep eggs out of the water and away from predators — their caretakers have historically reported little success in the birds’ breeding efforts. According to Disney Parks Blog, ahead of the advent referenced in the headline, just one lesser flamingo chick was hatched to the flock in the last 20 years, a trend that two teams of cast members looked to end through the unlikely partnership of zoology and sports.
Members of DAK’s animal care team wondered if enhancing the materials that their lesser flamingos use to build nests could yield better reproductive results for the shrimp-colored creatures. Enter the Sportscape team at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, stage left, and their special blend of baseball clay.
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“Baseball clay can differ depending on where you play and the weather conditions in your area, but it’s basically a mixture of sand and clay,” said a Sportscape field manager named Tommy. “Our mixture at ESPN Wide World of Sports is roughly 78% sand, a little silt and nine percent clay. Here in Florida, we look for our clay to perk – or dry – as fast as possible given the amount of rain and sun we receive, and the demand of all of the events we host.”
Described in the blog post, the temperamental nature of baseball clay was “exactly what the flamingos were missing,” a substance that’s malleable when wet yet rock solid after drying.
Once the clay was introduced, the result was “a homerun,” the blog post states. The flock laid seven eggs at the get-go, one of which has since hatched a chick named “Sandy.”
“After we introduced the new clay during last year’s breeding season, the flamingos began building bigger and better nests than we had ever seen,” said Jamie, animal manager of Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment. “...This is the first lesser flamingo chick we’ve had growing up on Discovery Island and the most productive breeding season to date!”
According to Tommy, the experience provoked interest in lesser flamingos and has made him an unofficial ambassador for the species.
“I am a flamingo person now,” Tommy said. “I have flamingo lights in my office and flamingo pictures from the animal care team. It was a bird I probably never gave a second thought to, but after working with the animal keepers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it’s really piqued my interest!”
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