ZSL Whipsnade Zoo welcomes ‘undertaker bird’

Marabou storks arrive at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo as part of conservation breeding programme

Zookeepers are fluttering with joy over the arrival of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s newest residents, two marabou storks, known as the ‘the undertaker bird’. 

Unlike most storks – commonly associated with delivering babies and bringing new life – these so named undertakers gained their unfortunate nickname because of their huge, dark, cloak-like wingspan and penchant for rotten carcasses. 

While perhaps not traditionally attractive, the 5ft tall marabou storks can be identified by their huge 9ft wingspan, bare throat sac and hunch - but despite their morbid moniker the two latest arrivals to the UK’s biggest zoo have already won over zookeepers.

undertaker bird whipsnade
Jamie Graham, Head Bird Keeper at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo said: “Marabou Storks may not have a very pleasant-sounding nickname but they are a vitally important species for their eco-system and need recognition for that. These two will help us share the importance of the species and hopefully help a few more people see past their gloomy demeanour.” 

“Their wild cousins living in Africa eat a wide variety of foods including meat from carcasses and food waste, often left by humans, helping to avoid the spreading of pathogens, which is essential to our environment.” 

Amongst the largest of any bird alive today, the Zoo has welcomed the two males as part of the European breeding program (EEP) to help protect the species and are hoping to find two females to join the pair soon.  

Famed for their appearance in Disney’s original The Lion King opening sequence, the pair of marabou storks arrived at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in December and have yet to greet any public due to the Zoo’s third closure.

undertaker bird whipsnade 

Jamie Graham continues: “The last time Whipsnade Zoo was home to marabou storks was in the 1970s and we are so pleased to welcome them back. We are looking forward to our newest arrivals greeting our visitors when we are able -  with our Zoo closed once again and our vital source of income cut off, we’re facing a difficult start to 2021 and ZSL needs the public’s support more than ever.”    

Reliant on income from ticket sales to care for the animals and fund their global conservation efforts, months of enforced closures have put ZSL’s charity zoos under huge financial pressure. Vets and zookeepers will continue to provide the highest level of care for their animals, working throughout the lockdown. ZSL, the international conservation charity behind the Zoos, is calling on the public to help ensure they remain open by donating to ZSL:

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