One of the "Ugly Five"

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Several checklists are carried on African safari. The best-known is the “Big Five,” a list created back in the day to describe the five most sought-after animals by big game hunters. But did you know that there is also an “Ugly Five”? Their special place is earned by the fact that they, . . . uh, well, . . . have an understated appeal. Only through the “eyes of love” can these proud members of East Africa be fully appreciated.

The Marabu Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer), pictured above, is one of the uglies. Other members of the set are the hyena, wildebeest, vulture, and warthog.

The Marabu Stork has long legs, a naked head, a neck ruff and black back. Its hunched appearance hides the fact that it has one of the longest wingspans of any living bird (more than 3 meters has been verified) and is responsible for its nickname, “the undertaker.” It is a wader found in wetlands and is a scavenger by trade.

Apart from its massive size, its most recognizable feature of the Marabu Stork is a large throat (or gular) sac. This inflatable fold of skin helps keep the the bird’s body cool (a dense collection blood vessels inside function like a radiator) and give it the ability to make an attractive display. By inflating the sac with air, this big fella can intimidate its rivals and attract a mate.

Obviously, ugly is only in the eye of the beholder.


We spotted this Marabu Stork while bird watching along the shore of Lake Manyara, Tanzania. For more on the storks of the region, see our story here.


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If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the roster for an Israel excursion for March 17-28, 2020. Seats are still available. For a full list of future trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.