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The Saddle-billed Stork is one of the tallest and most vibrantly colored storks and one of the most striking waterbirds in sub-Saharan Africa. It is named for the yellow, fleshy patch at the dorsal base of the bill, a characteristic unique in the stork family. It is most closely related to the Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) of southern Asia and northern Australia, and also shares a clade with the Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) of Central and South America. This species, or closely related ones, are known from numerous fossils in North Africa, where it was historically widespread. As recently as about 4,500 years ago, it was found in the Egyptian Nile Delta, where its occurrence was captured in hieroglyphs and artwork by ancient Egyptians.
Despite its charisma, it has largely been overlooked by researchers and conservationists who often equate a widespread geographic range with commonness. The extent of its distribution spans a large geographic area, yet it occurs at low densities in most areas and populations remain fragmented outside of East and Southern Africa. Because it occupies aquatic habitats, it also inherently does not occur ubiquitously on a landscape. These factors make it more challenging to study and more difficult to identify distribution patterns.
Besides recent research on distribution, this stork is very poorly studied. While fragments of its life history are known, much information is lacking about reproductive ecology, population dynamics, and movement. It is considered Least Concern on the IUCN Red List with a population estimate of 1,000–25,000, but adequate data do not actually exist to empirically develop a status assessment or population estimates. Thus, our current lack of knowledge about its true status necessitates population surveys and research on population dynamics.