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Thursday,November 26,2020 18:37 PM

The unique shoebill under threat

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th April 2001 03:00 AM

THE shoebill is an intriguing bird. Its fame dates back to early civilisations. The prehistoric looking bird appears in wall paintings and hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians.

THE shoebill is an intriguing bird. Its fame dates back to early civilisations. The prehistoric looking bird appears in wall paintings and hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians.

By Gerald Tenywa THE shoebill is an intriguing bird. Its fame dates back to early civilisations. The prehistoric looking bird appears in wall paintings and hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians. European explorers in Sudan say they saw a winged creature as big as a camel. The locals called it the abu-marcub, meaning 'Father of all shoes'. It is a spectacular and charismatic species that can easily be identified from other birds because it possesses an immense bulbous bill with grey plumage. On closer examination, the head appears crested and yellowish. The beak has streaks or blotches that can help in individual recognition. The position of the large eyes gives the bird an almost sinister look and binocular vision. Wihelm Moller, technical advisor at Uganda Wildlife Education centre has carried out research on the birds, and made the following discoveries: Adult shoebills attain a height of 1.5 meters and live 40 to 50 years. They live either alone or in pairs, spending much of their time hunting lung fish, snakes, frogs and young birds. When the breeding season comes (April to June) the male and female pair up to make a nest of about 2.5 metres in width. Both birds collect materials from nearby sources to construct the nest. The female lays two eggs which both parents incubate. Both the female and male birds collect water, which they pour through their beaks to cool the eggs during hot weather. The chicks hatch after about a month, and are silvery in colour. Both parents feed them until their beaks are fully developed, usually at nine weeks. Usually only one chick survives because it is difficult for the parents to get enough food for both of them. The extraordinary bill is used to crush bones and some of the vegetation picked along with the fish. An adult shoebill can consume as much as 3kg of fish per day. The shoebill roosts inside papyrus swamps, but feeds in fairly open places with thick, but short vegetation. The species is strictly territorial and requires about 3km square of suitable habitat. Shoebills reproduce slowly, requiring many years before becoming reproductively active. They are very shy when breeding and can easily abandon their nests with eggs or young at slightest provocation. Uganda is one of the few countries in which this rare, Africa-endemic bird is found. They can be found at Shoebill Camp in Queen Elizabeth National Park, along the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, Masaka and Mabamba bay wetlands opposite Entebbe International Airport. However, these wetlands are relatively small, each supporting less than 20 birds. The area with the largest numbers is probably Lake Kyoga, with a total population of 200 birds. Other areas include Lutembe, Ajai Wildlife Reserve, Lake Bisina and Opeta, and Albert. Unfortunately, the shoebill is rare and faces extinction. BirdLife International classified it as a near globally threatened species last year, with the population estimated between 12,000 and 15,000 individuals. The Shoebill is protected by national and international law. It belongs to Appendix 2 under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This implies that trade in shoebills is illegal. The Wildlife statute also prohibits the capture of shoebills for any harmful activity. Despite the laws in place, shoebills are exposed to various threats. This poses a mind-boggling question to conservationists: How to protect the shoebill. Habitat destruction is taking place as a result rice farming, especially in eastern Uganda. Poaching, and trade in the birds is on the increase at Mabamba swamp. Shoebills are also hunted for food around Lakes Opeta and Bisinia and on the northern fringes of Lake Kyoga. Swamps are burnt for cultural reasons and for grazing, hunting, and fishing purposes, which damages nests. Shoebills are persecuted around Lake Kyoga as communities there believe that sighting a shoebill casts a bad omen on their fishing endeavours. Ends

The unique shoebill under threat

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