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03 Dec, 2023
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The Struggling Marabou!!!- Article by Gareth Jones

The Struggling Marabou In The Nairobi National Park

Then on a recent Sunday afternoon, I was with some international guests who were looking forward to seeing and enjoying some of the wonderful and interesting sightings in the park. We drove down to the Athi basin, and after passing the Hippo pools soon observed a cluster of parked vehicles. Hopefully this would be their first sighting of lions? Yes thankfully it was! The lions had actually made 2 different kills not far from each other. We decided to wait at one of the kills, a fresh zebra carcass, located right on the edge of the road. We sat patiently for some time waiting for the possibility that the lions would come and eat. As we sat there, I observed a marabou stork, high up in a large fever tree. What was very unusual was that the big bird was actually suspended upside-down, and appeared to have its feet stuck in the small branches of the tree. The Marabou flapped frantically for quite a while trying to get free of the tangled branches. But no matter how hard the marabou flapped it remained stuck. As the bird became exhausted and extremely tired, it just hung limply from its feet that remained stuck in the branches. Then suddenly the marabou found the strength to try again, and flapped frantically, swinging back and forwards. But, sadly the bird remained stuck, and hung limply from its feet again. We watched the Marabou repeat the frantic flapping frequently, but noticed that each time the big bird became noticeably weaker. Then the Marabou hung limp and still for quite a few
minutes. We wondered if it had died, due to exhaustion and related stress. Then just when we thought the bird was most likely no longer alive, suddenly the Marabou seemingly found the inner strength to fight for its freedom, one more time. Then suddenly the feet were free, and the Marabou went from being in a very ungraceful posture to majestically flying away to hopefully live another day.

The incident with the Marabou reminded me that as humans we all have struggles in life, often with difficult situations, where we don’t know what to do or how the get free? To me this tough-minded struggling Marabou was an example to all of us to never give up, no matter how difficult the situation. I doubt that the bird was praying to be set free, however, irrespective of the marabou, we should always be aware that God often makes a way where there seems no way, for the situations many of us humans find ourselves in from time to time. Lies are like those thorny branches that entangle and trap people, until they are bold enough t0 tell the truth. For the is written “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free!” John 8 vs 32.

It was a hot day as we drove to the dam with the sand mounds near No 10 junction, there were hundreds of marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus), in and around the water as we watched their different and interesting behavior. At first, it was not obvious as to why they were at this particular location, but after some time it appeared that they were all trying to feed on some small aquatic creatures. When they are in such large numbers they seem to at time get into a bit of a mad frenzy, often resulting in serious looking peck fights with their long sword like beaks, as they competed for their aquatic food.

They are very peculiar looking birds with very large sharp beaks, pinkish/purple naked necks, long legs and a huge wingspan, in fact they have the widest wing span for any land bird (about 10ft). I also believe that one reason why Nairobi National Park does not have a large vulture presence is because of the marabou dominance.

Marabou storks have a reputation in Nairobi for nesting in the large thorn trees and trying to clean up some of the city rubbish, sadly many birds also die due to eating harmful substances such as plastic or poisons. In fact the Nairobi marabou population is quite excessive, largely due to ideal conditions, with the Athi abattoir nearby, and large acacia trees with water. However, their natural role in ‘cleaning up’ is similar to vultures in that they eat mostly off dead carcasses. Yet strangely even amongst the “mass of marabou mania” there seemed to be an order, that only marabous would best understand.

As I watched them, a marabou found a small tortoise, grabbed it with its large beak and tried to open it, like a large kind of nut, but was not successful, and walked away as if in disgust. Nearby, 5 black-backed jackals worked very hard to keep all birds away from a Coke’s hartebeest (kongoni) carcass, and the birds increased in larger numbers so eventually the jackals retreated and let them have their fill.

Next time you visit the park when it’s dry, take time to sit at a dam and watch the many birds and animals, who knows what you could see? Every day has a different surprise, maybe another struggling marabou determined to break free!?


The Struggling Marabou
Gareth Jones – A passionate writer & photographer
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