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Christmas Presents

A WATERY WONDERLAND

On an adventure in Zambia’s Bangweulu Wetlands, Sue Watt is blown away by the beauty and diverse wildlife of the country’s answer to the Okavango Delta
Russik, a habituated shoebill, interacts with white-backed vultures at Chikuni, where he is being rehabilitated back into the wild.

Russik welcomed me in his own inimitable style as I arrived at Bangweulu. With long spindly legs, a big belly and bright-yellow eyes, he seemed to be grinning mischievously as he waddled towards me. We eyed each other with mutual curiosity — and for my part, surprise. I hadn’t expected to be greeted by a shoebill. Standing upright, this prehistoric-looking bird reached my waist. Just 18 months old and losing his fluffy juvenile feathers, he was so endearingly scruffy I wanted to stroke him. His enormous razor-sharp bill made me think again.

Russik is no ordinary shoebill. Captured illegally then confiscated by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, he was brought from a zoo in Lusaka to Bangweulu to be released. “Unfortunately, we realised he was totally imprinted,” Carl Huchzermeyer, Bangweulu’s Fisheries Manager, explained. “He’s so used to people, he thinks we’re all the same — either we’re all shoebills or he’s human.”

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About Travel Africa

Transfixed by Ethiopia • Lake Kariba • Kolmanskop, Namibia's ghost town • South Africa on a shoestring • Looking for lemurs in Madagascar • Kenya's keepers of the wild • Why Bengweulu is so bewitching • Remote Ruaha • Sail away to St Helena • Chimps in Uganda • Picture-perfect Tuli... and much more!
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