It might not be a question that comes up often but if someone was asked how many flamingos are live, captive or wild in Australia at any one time, their guess would likely be wrong — the last known flamingo Down Under died in 2018.
Australia was once home to at least two species of ancient flamingos, if archaeological findings are anything to go by.
Those species lived about 25 million years ago, according to Flinders University researchers, but it’s suspected they eventually became extinct a few hundred thousand years back as climates changed.
Closer to the modern day, two flamingo species, the Chilean and Greater species, were introduced to Australia in the 20th century and kept in popular zoos around the country. As the decades passed, strict quarantine controls were placed on exotic birds, such as flamingos, in order to prevent the spread of bird diseases. This meant zoos couldn’t add to their flamingo collection anymore.
But zoos who were already in ownership of these birds could continue their exhibitions and given flamingos live reasonably long lives, flocks imported in the 70s continued to live on through the decades.
In 2009, Taronga Zoo’s last Chilean Flamingo, Yellow Band, died of old age, after arriving at the Sydney zoo in 1948. She came with a flock of around 20 other birds but remained one of the last-standing flamingos in Australia.
The only other Chilean flamingo in the country, called Chile, was at Adelaide Zoo. She was sadly euthanised in 2018 for poor health after living an estimated 60 years. Chile’s previous pen-mate was a Greater flamingo, creatively called Greater, who died four years earlier and was regarded as the world’s oldest flamingo at an estimated 83 years.
“[Greater] is the only Greater Flamingo in captivity in Australia,” the zoo’s website read at the time.
“The last time [the Greater flamingo] was brought into Adelaide Zoo was 1933. Prior to this the Greater Flamingo was also imported in 1930, 1925 and 1919. It is unknown which shipment our living individual arrived in.”
While it’s possible other flamingos exist within the country, 2018 marked the death of Australia’s last known flamingo.
For a zoo to import a new flamingo, it has to undergo an import risk analysis performed by Australian biosecurity authorities. It’s expected this process could take several years to complete so it’s unlikely many of the country’s zoos will go through the trouble.
So if you just realised you’ve never seen a real-life flamingo in Australia, now you know why.