Tribute to Big Bird

If you have ever been to Greystoke Camp, hidden in the rainforest and nestled on the shores of giant Lake Tanganyika, your stay there will no doubt have been burned in your memory. Aside from its idyllic setting, and the “Robinson Crusoe” character of this remote camp, it is also one of the best places on Earth to observe wild chimpanzees.

Sometime in October 2013 when Jeff and Kerrie were managing Greystoke Camp, a young great white pelican arrived on the lakeshore and became a camp guest, too young to feed himself, and benefiting from leftover fish the camp staff could provide.

Great white pelicans are very social birds, and normally prefer shallow brackish lakes. They move from place to place following abundance of fish. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world and is not a favoured haunt of these birds. Somehow this poor fellow became lost from the rest of his group, most likely in a storm. When he arrived at the camp he still had his juvenile plumage, but he fared quite well, grew up, obtained his adult plumage, and soon became known as “Big Bird” (great white pelicans are some of the largest flying birds).

Big Bird was already known to me before I met him in July 2014 because of a YouTube video where a GoPro camera was attached to Big Bird’s beak as he learnt to fly that February.

When we were staying at Mahale, we were thoroughly entertained by Big Bird and his antics. He joined my guests on their kayaking excursions, met us after fishing trips, honked at dinner before he went to sleep, and badgered us for attention when we were in the mess.

Sadly Greystoke camp announced on the 22nd February that Big Bird had died after a tragic boat accident. The camp also posted a picture of him on Facebook, and this has led to scores of Big Bird obituaries with guests, guides and friends posting their photos of him. He had undoubtedly become a bird ambassador to another large social biped – us.

Good-bye Big Bird.

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