On a Uganda safari, travelers can enjoy a entirely new side of the legendary river at Murchison Falls National Park. Although Uganda is best known for its incredible populations of gorillas and chimpanzees, this park’s abundant bird life is giving nature enthusiasts even more reason to visit the beautiful country. Situated in the northern part of the Albertine Rift Valley, the national park is one of the nation's ancient areas. Just 20 feet wide, the gorge where the waters of the Nile channel through is a fascinating miracle of nature. So incredible is this park that it has attracted the likes of Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and British royals.
Perhaps most thrilling about a trip through this area is the fauna — in addition to the hundreds of hippos, elephants and crocodiles travelers may see in the woodland, wetland and savannah of this park, the sandy river banks boast extremely rare species such as the shoebill, a bird related to storks and herons.
Among the 450 other bird species recorded in this park, the shoebill is one of the most distinguishable and intriguing. The 150-centimeter bird has a bluish-gray plumage, long black legs, broad wings and a muscular neck. Birders will not mistake it for any other bird thanks to its bill, a greenish brown shoe-shaped feature measuring about 23 centimeters long and 10 centimeters wide.
Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist, the bird's prehistoric appearance baffles many researchers who see its similarities to species like storks and herons, but also see its differences — like its ability to live among the papyrus grasses and reed swamps from Sudan to Ethiopia.
Despite its wide range, the shoebill is still considered rare and travelers will be lucky to see one — the bird's world population caps at about 8,000. The dropping numbers of this bird are due to habitat loss, nest disturbance, increased hunting and capture for the bird trade. The trade of this bird is limited by its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but this protection is not enough, according to the news outlet. Plans are in the works to upgrade the shoebill to Appendix I, making all trade of the animal illegal.
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