A Successful Shoebill Release
Wet and wonderful. The shoebill favors the vast papyrus swamps of the Sudd, in northern East Africa. Shoebills stake out overspill areas, where water is moving slowly past toward lakes, carrying with it lots of delicious fish. In Uganda, it is found along marshy edges of lakes, in areas grown over with reeds, papyrus, and grasses, for cover and nest material.
Threats to shoebills are largely from humans: habitat used for agriculture and aquaculture; livestock farming and ranching; energy production and mining; war and civil unrest; hunting and trapping terrestrial birds; pollution; invasive species and diseases; dams and water management/use; and climate change.
This unusual bird is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which estimates that there are 3,300 to 5,300 mature shoebills remaining. The population continues to decline due to habitat degradation and loss, disturbance (hunting and egg collection) by humans, and the illegal bird trade.
Contrary to European folklore that the stork brings the baby, a concerned citizen brought the shoebill chick to the Bangweulu Wetlands Project in August last year. Craig and Andrea Reid, managers at Bangweulu, adopted Seymour, and instead of letting him (or her?) grow up thinking he was a human the couple opted to turn themselves into sheet-and-sock wearing shoebill so Seymour could one day fledge the nest as a wild bird.
The shoebill was released into an area with permanent water and a consistent food source under the watchful eye of the fisheries guards. The fisheries guards regulate fishing activities, quotas and help fishermen understand the fishing regulations of the wetland. Since they were already operating in the swamps, the team decided to use them to monitor Seymour as well. The guards were able to report that the shoebill was happily sustaining itself on catfish, snakes and frogs.
Whether it is Seymour of Seymouress remains to be seen, but hopefully the Bangweulu management team will find out when they become grandparents. Until then they can congratulate themselves on their successful shoebill-parenting skills.
Seymour, a shoebill chick, was brought to Bangweulu Wetlands by a concerned local community member. The fisherman had heard that people were planning to steal the chick from its nest. In order to ensure shoebill nests are safe, Bangweulu employs local fisherman as "shoebill guards", to ensure chicks can fledge without human interference. Human-contact with Seymour was minimal to prevent imprinting, and resulted in the caretaker wearing a shoebill costume. During Christmas 2014, Seymour was released back into the wild, with a transmitter fitted in order to ensure that the park has the ability to monitor and track it.
Seymour has adapted to life in the wild and most recently made an exploratory trip, leaving the swamps and flying downstream to the DRC side of the border and has subsequently returned and settled around Shoebill Island Camp. Raising and releasing Seymour was a success, without a doubt, and the park expects that it will find a mate and breed successfully
Russik plays a crucial role in raising awareness about wildlife in the local communities and is seen by passers-by daily. Communities are gradually realising that they share the swamps with a very special species. It is unlikely that this bird will be able to integrate fully back into the wild, but in its own small way Russik is contributing to raising awareness about the rare shoebill.
Kapotwe - Cover star of African Geographic and featured in several news articles around the world must be the most famous shoebill. Here we will inform you about how Kapotwe became famous and why she is an important ambassador for all her fellow shoebills.
Kapotwe hatched close to Gibson village in August 2011, a fishing camp in the Bangweulu Wetlands of Zambia. These wetlands give rise to the southernmost breeding population for this enigmatic bird with its prehistoric looks. Kapotwe was found in a fishing hut at a very young age, kept there to show to tourists or to become part of the illegal trade in shoebill chicks. She was found by the shoebill research team and taken to Chikuni, the research station. Read more about the Shoebill Conservation Programme.
At Chikuni we built a suitable shoebill enclosure and from then onwards Kapotwe was hand-reared by the researchers and their assistants. She grew into a big chick and when she was old enough to walk around, a pond was dug in the enclosure, into which live catfish were released in order for Kapotwe to start developing her hunting skills. Initially she was not very successful, and every now and then she had to rely on her caretakers for some extra fish. Even without any parent to show her how to catch fish, her instincts told her what to do and slowly she learned the technique of catching catfish. She was quite the clumsy hunter, either knocking herself out by striking into shallow waters or realising too late that she was in too deep waters and could go no further.
For several weeks we did not hear anything from her, besides stories that she was doing fine and was foraging for herself. However, at the beginning of August 2012, two fishermen came to Chikuni and told us they had caught Kapotwe, as they thought she had escaped from her enclosure at Chikuni. The fishermen were hoping for a reward and we could then fetch the bird. We explained that Kapotwe was actually a free shoebill now and accompanied them to the site where they had her tied up. She was tied near a pool with a rubber string to her leg. We untied her and briefed and educated the fishermen about Kapotwe. We asked them to keep an eye on her, but not to tamper with the bird. Kapotwe slowly walked away from the scene, not impressed at all.
Bwalya was confiscated from Samfya in October 2011, where it was part of the illegal trade in shoebill chicks. Bwalya was quite a large chick and close to fledging. The bird only stayed a few weeks at Chikuni and when it was fed enough catfish to obtain a good body weight, the bird was released into the swamps. However, before we transferred the bird into the swamps, it was fitted with a GPS-transmitter. This device would send the GPS position of Bwalya every hour from 6 AM till 6 PM and would thus allow us to follow its movements.
The bird was released near Kaleya scout camp, about 3.5 km from Chikuni. The shoebill researcher camped at the release site for a few days to make sure the bird managed to forage and find shelter at night, but it seemed to be doing just fine. Initially Bwalya stayed close to the release site, but slowly it moved to the west and found an area with suitable habitat and plenty of catfish. The foraging site was quite close to Bulanda fishing camp and sometimes it would be foraging within 100 meters from humans. It foraged on top of the floating vegetation where it would hunt for catfish.
The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) also known as the whalebill, whale-headed stork or shoe-billed stork, is a very large long-legged wading bird. It derives its name from its enormous shoe-shaped bill. It has a somewhat stork-like overall form and has previously been classified with the storks in the order Ciconiiformes based on this morphology. However, genetic evidence places it with pelicans and herons in the Pelecaniformes. The adult is mainly grey while the juveniles are more brown. It lives in tropical East Africa in large swamps from South Sudan to Zambia.
The shoebill may have been known to Ancient Egyptians but was not classified until the 19th century, after skins and eventually live specimens were brought to Europe. John Gould very briefly described it in 1850 from the skin of a specimen collected on the upper White Nile by the English traveller Mansfield Parkyns. Gould provided a more detailed description in the following year. He placed the species in its own genus Balaeniceps and coined the binomial name Balaeniceps rex. The genus name comes from the Latin words balaena "whale", and caput "head", abbreviated to -ceps in compound words. Alternative common names are whalebill, shoe-billed stork and whale-headed stork.
Traditionally considered as allied with the storks (Ciconiiformes), it was retained there in the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy which lumped a massive number of unrelated taxa into their "Ciconiiformes". Based on osteological evidence, the suggestion of a pelecaniform affinity was made in 1957 by Patricia Cottam. Microscopic analysis of eggshell structure by Konstantin Mikhailov in 1995 found that the eggshells of shoebills closely resembled those of other Pelecaniformes in having a covering of thick microglobular material over the crystalline shells. In 2003, the shoebill was again suggested as closer to the pelicans (based on anatomical comparisons) or the herons (based on biochemical evidence). A 2008 DNA study reinforces their membership of the Pelecaniformes.
So far, two fossilized relatives of the shoebill have been described: Goliathia from the early Oligocene of Egypt and Paludavis from the Early Miocene of the same country. It has been suggested that the enigmatic African fossil bird Eremopezus was a relative too, but the evidence for that is unconfirmed. All that is known of Eremopezus is that it was a very large, probably flightless bird with a flexible foot, allowing it to handle either vegetation or prey.
The shoebill is a tall bird, with a typical height range of 110 to 140 cm (43 to 55 in) and some specimens reaching as much as 152 cm (60 in). Length from tail to beak can range from 100 to 140 cm (39 to 55 in) and wingspan is 230 to 260 cm (7 ft 7 in to 8 ft 6 in). Weight has reportedly ranged from 4 to 7 kg (8.8 to 15.4 lb). A male will weigh on average around 5.6 kg (12 lb) and is larger than a typical female of 4.9 kg (11 lb). The signature feature of the species is its huge, bulbous bill, which is straw-coloured with erratic greyish markings. The exposed culmen (or the measurement along the top of the upper mandible) is 18.8 to 24 cm (7.4 to 9.4 in), the third longest bill among extant birds after pelicans and large storks, and can outrival the pelicans in bill circumference, especially if the bill is considered as the hard, bony keratin portion. As in the pelicans, the upper mandible is strongly keeled, ending in a sharp nail. The dark coloured legs are fairly long, with a tarsus length of 21.7 to 25.5 cm (8.5 to 10.0 in). The shoebill's feet are exceptionally large, with the middle toe reaching 16.8 to 18.5 cm (6.6 to 7.3 in) in length, likely assisting the species in its ability to stand on aquatic vegetation while hunting. The neck is relatively shorter and thicker than other long-legged wading birds such as herons and cranes. The wings are broad, with a wing chord length of 58.8 to 78 cm (23.1 to 30.7 in), and well-adapted to soaring. 2b1af7f3a8