Updated on February 20, 2024

If you travel high up into South America’s Andes Mountains, you’ll discover llamas, alpacas … and flamingos? It’s true! Three species of Andean Highland flamingos call the Andes home: Andean, Chilean and Puna (James’s). There, this flamboyance (what a group of flamingos is called) lives in elevations from 7,500-14,700 feet. These social birds flock together in brackish alkaline wetlands (salars) formed by summer rainfall. Their long legs are perfect for wading through water where they snack on algae, shrimp and mollusks.

Andean Highland flamingos are three of six flamingo species and the rarest in the world. Learn about each South American flamingo species and what local organizations, communities and zoos are doing to conserve these birds.


Species of Andean Highland flamingos

Andean flamingo facts

  • The world’s rarest flamingo species
  • Found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru
  • Only flamingos with yellow legs
  • Don’t have a hind toe
  • Have deep-keeled bills with fine bristles which filter out microscopic plant material from the water

Four Andean flamingos in a shallow lake with their beaks in the water.

Chilean flamingo facts

  • Closely related to American and greater flamingos
  • Found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru
  • Have shallow-keeled bills with coarse bristles to filter out tiny animals and plants from water
  • Have grey legs and bright pink ankles
  • Found at more than 60 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facilities

Multiple Chilean flamingos standing in water. Chilean flamingos are pink with a black beak.


Puna (James’s) flamingo facts

  • Were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1956
  • Smallest of the three Andean Highland flamingo species at 3 feet tall
  • Found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru
  • Like the Andean flamingo, puna (James’s) flamingos don’t have a hind toe
  • Have deep-keeled bills with fine bristles which filter out microscopic algae from the water
  • Have yellow bills and bright orange legs

James Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) at Laguna Colorada in Bolivia.


Threats to Andean Highland flamingos

Though scientists and conservationists are making great progress to save these flamingo species, the birds are still experiencing human and environmental threats. Human activities such as mining and unregulated tourism are increasingly disturbing the salars, especially in northern Chile, where these three species of flamingo live. Other threats include degradation and loss of flamingo habitat due to human disturbance and changes in climate.

Andean, Chilean and Puna (James’s) flamingos are classified as vulnerable or near threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Andean flamingos are also protected under the United States Endangered Species Act.


A large group of flamingos in Laguna Colorada, Red Lagoon, a shallow salt lake in the southwest of the altiplano of Bolivia, within Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and close to the border with Chile. There is a mountain behind the lake.


Conserving Andean Highland flamingos

But there is hope for these species’ futures. Organizations in the U.S. and in the flamingo’s native territory are working to restore populations and prevent future threats.

SAFE species program

In 2019, the AZA established a Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for the three species of Andean Highland flamingos. This program brings together zoos across the U.S. to share expertise. Its goal is to ensure sustainable populations of these flamingos throughout their geographic range in South America by supporting research, monitoring, public engagement, targeted training, community outreach and educational programming. A focus on Chile’s northern Andean highlands plans to help fill research gaps and assist with the identification, prioritization and designation of critical flamingo habitat.


A man releasing a Chilean flamingo in the Chilean highlands. He is bending over, has short dark brown hair and is standing in shallow water, wearing waders, a teal sweatshirt and sunglasses.

Credit: Zoológico Nacional de Chile


Flamingo field work

SAFE supports flamingo field work in Chile, such as an initiative of the Zoológico Nacional de Chile, to install satellite transmitters on wild flamingos in the Salar de Surire Natural Monument, Nevado Tres Cruces National Park and the Los Flamencos National Reserve. These transmitters are solar GPS units used to map and analyze flamingo movement and habitat use. They are temporary units which do not harm the flamingo, nor disrupt its ability to fly.

Through transmitter data, the team has discovered that in one day, a James’s flamingo can travel up from 400-500 kilometers (248-310 miles) between highland lakes. Data from this program is reported to the Chilean government to establish new and protect existing flamingo conservation areas. The program’s work is in support of and coordination with the Chilean government, nonprofit entities, international partners, and national stakeholders, including the private mining sector, academia and indigenous communities.

Chilean residents learn about flamingos

For vulnerable animals, public education and awareness is key to their survival. In Chile, this education includes educating school-aged children in the Zoológico Nacional de Chile’s “Guardianes y Guardianas de los Flamencos” program, which means flamingo guardians. Students in the program learned about the three species of flamingos found in their community and designed projects to promote their conservation. The program even included a trip to Los Flamencos National Reserve, where students saw the native flamingos and their ecosystem in action.

In 2023, Zoológico Nacional and Fundación MERI celebrated International Flamingo Day in San Pedro de Atacama and Toconao’s town squares. Both towns are near the Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat home to the three flamingo species. Additionally, the Reserva Elemental Puribeter, a Chilean nature and culture conservation group, hosted the Festival of the High Andes Flamingos.

A young flamingo that is grey in color in front of adult, pink Chilean flamingos.

How to help flamingos

Helping these vulnerable populations doesn’t require a trip to Chile. In fact, many AZA-accredited zoos in the U.S. care for Chilean flamingos at their facilities. You can visit the birds at a zoo and learn about the way it’s working to help with flamingo conservation. Visiting animals at zoos creates greater awareness of the species, leading to more empathy about the species’ vulnerability, even if that species isn’t native to your area. A trip to a zoo can start a lifelong passion for conservation and education, such as learning about one danger to flamingos — lithium mining.

Did you know you likely carry a piece of a flamingo’s home in your pocket? Cell phones contain lithium and mining of lithium is one of the biggest threats to the flamingo’s habitat. One way to help flamingos is by keeping your phone longer, instead of upgrading as soon as a new model becomes available.

To help reduce and reuse cell phones, Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri, is collecting old phones. These phones are then donated to the Greene County Family Justice Center and given to victims of domestic abuse.

SAFE flamingo program partners in AZA

The SAFE Andean Highland Flamingo program is made up of these partner organizations:

  • Zoo Conservation Outreach Group
  • Alexandria Zoo, Louisiana
  • Oklahoma City Zoo
  • Dallas Zoo
  • Dickerson Park Zoo, Missouri
  • Greenville Zoo, South Carolina
  • Reid Park Zoo, Arizona
  • Zoo Atlanta
  • Ellen Trout Zoo, Texas
  • Louisville Zoo
  • Roger Williams Park Zoo, Rhode Island
  • Topeka Zoo, Kansas
  • Fresno Chaffee Zoo, California
  • Tracy Aviary, Utah


Celebrate flamingos with these holidays

Looking for a fun way to promote awareness of flamingos? Consider celebrating these flamingo holidays.

April 26, International Flamingo Day

Organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Flamingo Specialist Group to spread awareness of flamingos and their conservation status.

June 23, National Pink Flamingo Day

Declared in 2007 to celebrate the pink, plastic lawn flamingo, this day has since been used by many AZA-accredited facilities to celebrate flamingos and raise awareness and funds for their conservation.


Andean Highland flamingos are one of over 40 SAFE program species. To learn about another SAFE species and how zoos in the U.S. are protecting it, check out this story on sloth bear conservation. Plus, bear expert and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild Co-Host Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, explains what makes sloth bears different from other bears.

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