KARL SHUKER bids farewell to a crypto-legend and solves the mystery of a ‘weird’ African bird
LOSING YOUR HEAD OVER A STORK...
During late January 2018, a decidedly odd report originating in a Ghanaian online news site called Pulse was circulated widely throughout the major social media sites and elsewhere online. It concerned a reportedly “weird” bird shot dead on 26 January 2018 by some youths in the Nigerian town of Ogbomosho, in Oyo State, and then paraded through the streets, held by one of the youths high above his head. The report, which claimed that this incident had “caused confusion among community members”, contained two colour photographs of the dead bird, which for once were actually both in focus and in close-up – a double rarity for cryptozoological images! Unfortunately, they were still of little use in identifying its species because of the bizarre angles at which they had been snapped, yielding a pair of very large, partly outstretched black-plumed wings but seemingly no legs or head.
In the accompanying text, the bird was described as “weird” and as “a scary looking bird with features like a vulture”, and when I first looked at the photos I did wonder if it was indeed a species of vulture, of which seven exist in this large West African country, but none of them seemed to match the killed bird. If only its head were visible.
Browsing online, I found additional reports from various other West African sources, plus a third photograph of the bird’s hoisted-aloft carcase, but once again the angle at which it had been taken was such that all of the bird’s vital features for identification purposes were obscured, and I even began to wonder if its head had been chopped off. However, after choosing what appeared to be the most detailed of the three photos and both enlarging and enhancing it considerably, I was finally able to discern the head and base of the beak, which revealed unequivocally that the mystery bird was a marabou stork Leptoptilos
crumenifer. The bare head and neck of this species are certainly superficially vulturine, which explained why it had been described as such in the Pulse report, and its wingspan can be 7-9ft (2.1-2.7m) across, but what remains unexplained is why, at least according to the various reports, this bird had caused confusion (and apparently even chaos) among the locals and had been deemed weird – bearing in mind that the marabou is both a common and a very familiar species in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa. Equally odd is a mention in the Pulse report of an earlier killing of another supposed mystery beast, this time in Sapele, in Nigeria’s Delta State, yet whose photograph revealed it at once to be a West African manatee
Trichechus senegalensis, yet again a very familiar species in this region of Africa. Careless reporting, cunning click-bait, or cryptozoological fake news? I’ll let you decide! www.pulse.com.gh/filla/scary-lookingbird-killed-in-ogbomosho-id7907902. html?utm_source=facebook&utm_ medium=social&utm_campaign=pulseghana_web, 29 Jan 2018; www.akpraise. ng/chaos-in-ogbomosho-oyo-state-after-alarge-bird-was-shot-dead-by-some-youths/, 29 Jan 2018.
ABOVE LEFT: The ‘weird’ bird shot dead and paraded through the Nigerian town of Ogbomosho. ABOVE RIGHT: The marabou stork; why would a familiar Nigerian bird have caused confusion?