The African Sacred Ibis meant more to ancient Egypt than the Bald Eagle means to the U.S., the Red-crowned Crane to China and the Canada Goose to Canada.
By Rex Graham
The Sacred Ibis was literally sacred. Reverence toward it was most promoted by Egyptian Pharaoh Amasis (570-526 BC) and the birds were fed so well for centuries in sanctuaries than a race of them stopped migrating. Amasis decreed the death penalty for any Egyptian who mistreated the birds. Over 1 million ibis were mummified and stacked in funeral containers in a vast underground cemetery complex.
Egyptian Sacred Ibis Art
Ibis species still hold a special place in the psyche of most Africans. The Giant Ibis is the national bird of Cambodia, and the Scarlet Ibis is one of two national birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Worldwide, there currently are 28 species of ibis, a genus of large, beautiful wading birds with downward curving bills.
Ironically, the African Sacred Ibis has vanished from Egypt. Its likeness is found on oil lamps, pottery, coins, statues and many other ornaments on display in museums from Cairo and Cape Town to Copenhagen and Tokyo.
Archaeologists surveying the ancient cemetery and tomb monuments at Tuna el-Gebel, Egypt, discovered over 1 million mummified ibises and many thousands of other birds and animals in underground tunnels and galleries.
African Sacred Ibis Range
Today, the African Sacred Ibis is a commonly seen nomadic waterbird widely distributed south of Egypt. It usually breeds during rainy seasons in communal nesting trees with other waterbirds near lakes, wetlands, grasslands, lagoons and other wet areas of sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa. Loss of wetlands (and hunting in some places) is the main threat.
Many popular African birding or wildlife tours will yield views of this strikingly attractive, long-legged species with a royal past.
Two of the most picturesque places to see the ibis amid the wonders of Tanzanian wildlife is “the Selous” – one of the largest faunal reserves in the world, and “the Ruaha” which is the biggest National Park in Africa.
Adventure Camps of Tanzania has 13 safari camps around the country.
One of them is this marvelous camp at the Selous Game Reserve.