This is the heartwarming moment that Kapotwe, a young female shoebill, first spread her wings in Zambia's Bangweulu wetlands after having been rescued as a chick from poachers.

The thieves steal the giant birds, which can stand up to 4ft tall, as chicks to sell to sell to the zoos and private collectors, who will pay up to $20,000 for a single bird.

Kapotwe was kept in a small grass hut in a fishing village, where she found and rescued by Zambia Wildlife Authority scouts before she could be sold on by the shady traders.

The 4ft tall shoebill also took in her new-found freedom by standing on top of a 45ft tall tree to survey the vast African swamplands around her.

University student Morgan Trimble photographed the bird trying to eat her metal camera tripod as well as hunting for food by emptying a fisherman's net of his catch.

After her rescue, the wildlife scouts took her to the Bangweulu Wetlands research station at Chikuni Island, where researchers hoped to nurse her to health and quickly release her.

Kapotwe had other ideas, however. The cheeky bird had never learned to behave like a shoebill, and so had no idea how to catch fish and avoid threats. In fact, says Morgan Trimble, the photographer who captured the amazing pictures of her eventual release into the wild, she was more like a naughty puppy.


Shoebills - Balaeniceps rex in Latin - live in large swamps in eastern Africa and can grow to more than 5ft tall and can have a wingspan of up to 10ft.

The species was only discovered in the 19th century when some of the birds' skins were brought to Europe.

Shoebills feed in muddy waters, preying on fish, frogs, reptiles such as baby crocodiles, insects and small mammals.

The species is classified as 'threatened' and the population is estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000.

The shoebill is distributed in freshwater swamps of central tropical Africa.

'I was asked to photograph her not long after she had been rescued.

'She is naturally very curious about anything that is new and the way she explores things is to gnaw at it with her beak.

'Every morning she woke us with her rooster’s call, then would spend her day investigating the comings and goings on the path to the village, getting into trouble with fishermen for stealing a few fish from their nets, and mingling with other birds and animals in the area.

Morgan, who is originally from Kansas, US, but now lives in Pretoria, South Africa, took the pictures of the shoebill in the Bangweulu wetlands in Zambia.

She said: 'Shoebills are the Holy Grail of birds as far as twitchers in Africa are concerned.

'In the evening when we returned from the field, she would happily greet us with her bill-clapping call.'

Lofty: Kapotwe surveys the area in Zambia that she will be making her home as she is released after being rescued and raised by researchers

Despite her fondness for people, which would have her sneaking up behind Ms Trimble to investigate what she was photographing, Kapotwe did eventually learn the important skill of fishing.

Her rescuers had worried that she would never learn to fend for herself and that she would never find her way into her own natural habitat away from the research centre.

But, says Ms Trimble: 'She has started to explore further away from the research station and has become much more independent.

'She has had a few narrow escapes though – she once swallowed a hooked catfish from a fishing line and had to be released, and on another occasion she was briefly captured by a fisherman who thought she’d escaped from the research station.'

Ready to fly: Shoebills have a wingspan of up to 10feet and hunt in swamp lands. They have been known to eat baby alligators

Since these pictures were taken last year, Kapotwe has been increasingly learning how to be a shoebill - and learning how to deploy her beak.

'Shoebills have very powerful beaks that are designed to crush the skull of a catfish so it can potentially be quite dangerous for humans to get too close to her.

'In the wild, shoebills live in remote swamplands and rarely encounter people, but this one has spent virtually all of her life surrounded by them

'Now she’s doing well and fending for herself,' says Ms Trimble.

Responses to "Shoebill appears to smile as it is released into the wild after being rescued from poachers"

  1. Ailed says:

    ha ha Seems he's having some fun. So great!

  2. Anonymous says:

    That is one magnificent bird.. Looks like a dodo bird.. If it is not a descendant of one. Surely they have to be treasured and protected in anyway possible.

  3. Anonymous says:

    May she live a long life of freedom!

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