Uganda: Shoebill Birds Feared Extinct at Lake Opeta

By Simon Peter Emwamu

Katakwi - The rare Shoebill bird species said to be found only at the shores of Lake Opeta (Bisina) in Katakwi District in Uganda are feared to have become extinct.

The whereabouts of the few surviving birds remain unknown as birding tourists have not seen any in the last six months.

These rare bird species has for long lived at Opeta but of recent, tourists who have travelled to this remote tourist destination to watch them have left disappointed.

Mr Patrick Elungat Icodo, a tour guide at Opeta Shoebill watching site, said the birds are a rare sight compared to some years ago.

Mr Charles Ichohor, the executive director of Conserve Uganda, a tourism firm that has been protecting the Shoebill at Opeta, said on three excursions they have ventured out with tourists to watch the birds ended in disappointment as none of them could be seen in their habitats.

"We sailed from as early as 7am to as late as 7pm with binoculars but all in vain, the birds couldn't be seen," Mr Ichogor said.

Mr Ichogor said in the 1960s and 1970s, the bird numbers at the lake were huge but because of the culture of eating birds in the area, many of them have been hunted down by residents.

"Early last year, they were about three surviving ones here, but they are not seen now," Mr Ichogor revealed.

He, however, also hinted that some of the birds could have migrated to other swamps yet to be known.

Mr Archilles Byaruhanga, the executive director Nature Uganda, attributes the birds' disappearance to the dangerous conditions that are becoming common in their habitats.

Shoebills live in marshy grounds where they prey on frogs, small fish and other organisms that live in marshlands. Most of such areas have been drained for cultivation and grazing, adding that in Katakwi in particular, most of the habitats have been turned into grazing grounds, thereby reducing the birds' habitat.

Lake Opeta is a gazzeted Ramsar Site for bird watching. The area is also home to other rare bird species like the Fox Waiver bird.

About the bird

The Shoebill, also known as Whalehead or Shoe-billed stork, is a very large stork-like bird. It derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill.

A Shoebill takes about 2-3 years to mature and can live up to more than 45 years.

It breeds and feeds in seasonally flooded marshes where vegetation is dominated by a mixture of papyrus, reeds and grass. They are often found in areas with abundant floating vegetation.

They are mostly sedentary, solitary birds, only coming together when food is scarce or to breed. They mostly breed in the dry season.

Source: All Africa