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Balaeniceps rex


This large waterbird is unmistakable due to its unique ‘shoe-shaped’ bill which gives it an almost prehistoric appearance – reminding us of birds’ dinosaur ancestry.

Found in nine countries across Africa the species has a large range, but exists in small localised populations concentrated around swamps and wetlands. Individuals are highly solitary – often the male and female in a breeding pair prefer to occupy different ends of their shared territory.

The nest is large and flattened, built amid swamp grasses or sedges and usually on a mound of floating vegetation or a small island. The construction can be up to three metres wide. Although a clutch of up to three dull, chalky-white eggs is laid, typically only one nestling survives due to inter-sibling rivalry, where the larger (generally first born) chick will out-compete and/or kill its siblings. The breeding season varies, being dependent on Africa’s seasonal flood cycle.

The Shoebill is undergoing a continuing decline owing to the effects of habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, nest disturbance, hunting, and capture for the live bird trade. The global population is currently estimated at between 5,000-8,000 birds and the species is classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Shoebills are the only member of their genus Balaeniceps, and the only living member of their family, Balaenicipitidae.

  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Balaenicipitidae
  • Population: 5,000-8,000
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 100-140 cm
  • Weight: 4-7Kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.34 (?)
ED Score: 51.34 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


The Shoebill’s breeding and resident range is currently estimated to be 1,470,000 km² and includes Burundi, Central African Republic, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

Habitat and Ecology

This species’ inhabit wetland habitat, preferring large, seasonally flooded marshes with dense vegetation and areas of floating vegetation often formed by papyrus. They are highly solitary and they forage by ‘walking slowly’ or standing. Large fish such as lungfish are the preferred prey item, but it will feed on a variety of aquatic animals including amphibians, water snakes, young crocodiles, as well as rodents and waterfowl chicks.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Droughts Crops Livestock Fossil fuel Roads/Rail Hunting Wars Work Fire Dams Invasive species Native species Industry Agriculture

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Download the survival blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The survival blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here. 

Vision (30-50 years)

A stable population of the Shoebill in all the range states.

Goal (5-10 years)

An increased population and a stable habitat for the Shoebill in Uganda.


Domestication of National Management Action Plan for the Shoebill from the International Species Action Plan High
Discover and document more Shoebill strongholds to reduce pressure on the few that are known High
Create awareness on plight of the Shoebill High
Bridge the knowledge gaps in ecology, distribution, population trends and size, breeding and foraging requirements High
Habitat Protection High
Integrate all groups working on the conservation of the Shoebill Medium

Judith Mirembe

  • Project name: Strengthening the Community Conserved Area initiative at Mabamba wetland to protect the Shoebill
  • Project site: Mabamba wetlands, Uganda
  • Active: 2017 - 2019
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