Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis Scientific name definitions
Version: 2.0 — Published June 25, 2021
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Conservation and Management
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Although it is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (104), the status assessment has no basis in data because they are largely lacking. Most authors have considered it widespread but uncommon. It has largely been overlooked in research and conservation because of assumptions about its abundance and large geographic range (116). There is evidence of declines and extirpations in some countries, particularly in West Africa, but reliable and comparable surveys across the range are scarce. The lack of standardized population data in most countries makes an empirical status assessment impossible, so research priorities should be for surveys to address this significant need.
Effects of Human Activity
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Wetland and waterway degradation has negatively affected some populations, especially in West Africa, but all evidence of this is post hoc. Compounded impacts in Mali's Inner Niger Delta included overfishing following the introduction of nylon nets in the 1960s, and dam construction upstream that altered the flooding regime (56). Additionally, years-long drought in the Sahel region beginning in the 1970s probably contributed to extirpation in Mali. Damming of the Senegal, White Volta, and Oti Rivers in West Africa seems to have similarly caused declines and/or local extirpations (59, 46, 28). Conversely, the species seems to have disappeared from Namibia's Nyae Nyae Conservancy since 2000 following an increase in surface water (28). Thus, it seems it is sensitive to hydrological changes that affect preferred foraging habitat (i.e., not too much water and not too little). It is unclear if a loss of surface in water in the Democratic Republic of Congo is responsible for the lack of recent records there, however (28).
The recent extirpation in Togo has been attributed to habitat alteration in which protected areas have largely been converted to agriculture following political upheaval since the 1990s (R. Cheke, R. Dowsett, personal communication). Other examples of how changing land use affects this stork are undescribed.
Hunting and Trapping
Hunting appears to have led to declines along the Upper Bua River in Malawi (68), but this represents the only evidence that hunting has impacted a population.
Trafficking may be an overlooked threat. Baker (106) stated there was evidence of 500 storks captured and exported from Tanzania each year, but it is unclear where this number derived from. Besides a desire for the species in captive collections (legal and illegal), he noted a trade in skins for decoration in Japan.
According to CITES data, from 1985–2011 (no data available since 2011) 1,072 Saddle-billed Stork specimens (i.e., live birds, trophies, skins, and eggs) were reportedly traded internationally. As an export country, Tanzania had the highest number of traded specimens (82%). Strangely, Guinea had the second highest number of traded specimens (5%), even though the species does not occur there. Nine percent of the 1,072 traded specimens were reported to have a captive-bred source, and 68% were wild-caught. Source was unknown or unreported for the remainder. Only 22 were non-living specimens; of these specimens, 8 were trophies taken from Tanzania and Zambia, 6 were skins exported to the United States from Tanzania in 1995, 6 were eggs exported from South Africa to Great Britain from 2005–2008, and one was a 'body' exported to Saudi Arabia from the United States in 1993.
The majority of trade occurred during the 1990s, when 54% of reported specimens were traded. Twenty-seven percent were traded during the 1980s, and 19% from 2000–2011. Although the general impression of most people is that modern zoo animals only come from captive stock, as recently as 2004–2005, 28 live birds were imported to Portugal from Tanzania for zoos. The largest reported quantity of specimens traded in a single record was 100 (9% of the total 1,072 traded specimens) live birds exported from Tanzania to Belgium in 1995. In this trade record, Tanzania failed to report the export quantity, so all that is known is that 100 birds were received in Belgium. The second largest quantity of specimens traded in a single record was 94 live birds exported to Germany from Tanzania in 1993. In this instance, Tanzania reported an export quantity of 94 birds but Germany reported an import quantity of only 14, likely indicating 80 storks died or Germany failed to report the correct import quantity. Regardless, this error highlights an alarming concern regarding trade in this species.
Stunkard and Gandal (103) noted storks exported from Nigeria, although it is unclear if that was the country in which they were captured. This is particularly interesting because the known population in Nigeria has not exceeded 10 in one reserve.
No conservation action has taken place to specifically address population declines, mostly because the species has largely been overlooked by conservationists (116). However, it has probably benefited from floodplain restoration in the Waza-Logone Floodplain of Cameroon and Chad (117).