May 10, 2023
But the species is under threat from the illegal pet trade, as well as hunting, nest disturbance and overall habitat loss. This isn’t helped by their slow breeding habits; the female lays between one and three eggs and like many bird species, the older and bigger chick has a several-day head start and often outcompetes its smaller sibling for food.
The BBC captured this fight for survival in BBC Earth (you can watch the 4 minute extract here), casting the shoebill as the villain of the bird world.
So I was very excited to hear about an innovative new conservation initiative in the Bengweulu swamps, Zambia, an area I first visited in 2005. In addition to the impressive, pre-historic shoebills there are some 50,000 black lechwe, cheetah, buffalo, hyena, tsessebe, jackal, wattled cranes, sitatunga and a host of migratory and resident bird species.
Bangweulu means where water meets the sky. It is a community-owned protected area and a very off-piste destination! There is one suitable safari camp here that operates from May to October. It has just four tents.
Bangweulu is managed by African Parks, a pioneering conservation organisation that goes into partnership with African governments to manage some of the continent’s most remote and fragile national parks.
Their new Shoebill Captive Rearing and Rehabilitation Facility is the first of its kind. The “second” or “spare” egg will be rescued from the nest and brought to the facility where they are incubated, with carers turning each one by hand three times a day, until they hatch after roughly 30 days.
Once they have sprouted a fluffy crop of feathers, the shoebill chicks are moved to nest boxes until they are ready to move outdoors. When the youngsters are able to fly and catch their own fish, they are released into the wetlands. GPS-tracking units are attached to each one to monitor their progress as they integrate into the wild population.
But there is a catch – this care and rearing needs to happen with no human contact as shoebills “imprint” on the first living thing they see as their parent. To solve this problem shoebill ‘parent’ hand puppets, designed and made by famed Muppets puppeteer, Bill Diamond, are used by the care-givers at every stage of the chicks’ growth. Recordings of shoebill vocalisations are also used to create a sense of natural environment while the chicks are feeding.
If you would like to see this heart-warming story for yourself, contact me about a safari to Zambia.
For more information on African Parks you can visit their website or follow them on social media @africanparksnetwork
NB prices shown were current at the time of writing the newsletter and are not necessarily current now.
Please ask for an updated quote.
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