Mooney, A., McCall, K., Bastow, S. et al. 2023. Changes in environment and management practices improve foot health in zoo-housed flamingos. Animals 13(15), 2483.

Foot lesions are a highly prevalent phenomenon among zoo-housed flamingos, with up to 99.8% of birds affected. These lesions are a recognized welfare concern, increasing the likelihood of bacterial infections, and even septicemia. Although several risk factors have been linked to foot lesions in flamingos (including age, climate, and substrate), there have been few studies looking at changes in foot lesions over time. This study tracked changes in foot lesions for an individual flock of Chilean Flamingos (97 birds) at Dublin Zoo, Ireland, over an 18-month period in response to a mandatory indoor housing order imposed by the Irish Government as a seasonal precautionary measure to prevent the spread of avian influenza. Using a pre-defined scoring system for four common types of foot lesions (hyperkeratosis, fissures, nodular lesions, and papillomatous growths), we show that providing unrestricted access to outdoor habitats and natural substrates (both terrestrial and aquatic) can improve the health and wellbeing of zoo-housed flamingos. This longitudinal study highlights the importance of regular foot health monitoring in flamingos, and the importance of natural aquatic substrates when managing flamingos. As many zoo-housed birds have been spending more time indoors on artificial substrates over recent years due to avian influenza housing orders, it is critical that we assess the impact of such changes in management and habitat access on bird health and welfare.