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For the first time, African marabou born in Antwerp Zoo

© Jonas Verhulst/Antwerp Zoo

A pair of African marabou have given birth to two healthy baby marabou, for the first time ever at Antwerp Zoo.

The marabou is a type of stork that lives in sub-Saharan Africa, large in stature – up to 152cm and weighing 9kg. It often lives close to humans, and likes to scavenge for food on dumping sites.

It is also sometimes known as the undertaker bird, because of its dark plumage and lugubrious manner. The babies, one zoo employee reported, have inherited their parents’ looks.

The little ones are also very ugly, but that makes them just as beautiful and unique,” she told the VRT.

It all began when Anatool and Svetlana, two of the six adult marabou in the Zoo’s marshland aviary, reached the adult age of seven years. The mating ritual, which involves loud cries and the clapping of their massive beaks, began.

The shrill call resembles the sound of a donkey with a cold,” one keeper said. “They also inflate their air sacs, at the back of the neck, into thick air sausages.”

The air sacs also serve as temperature regulators in the wilds of southern Africa.

The two birds proceeded to build a high nest on one of the nesting platforms provided, and not very well, according to the Zoo. At one point the nest appeared dangerous, but in the end it turned out to be fit for purpose, and two eggs were laid.

After 29 days, right on time, the eggs hatched. Two chicks, still without the typical hairy skull of the adult, but with the speckled neck-sac.

Ready for its close-up. © Jonas Verhulst for Antwerp Zoo

Marabou in the wild have no trouble eating carrion or food left in the rubbish tip. In the Zoo, however, they are fed fish, beef, insects and even baby male hen chicks, which would otherwise go into the blender to be turned into animal feed.

The adults partially digest the food, then regurgitate it for the young, who serve themselves off the floor of the nest.