Saggi - A Beautiful Secretary Bird - is released back to the wild.

Posted on Tue August 30, 2022.

An amazing story – of one man’s love and determination to get a huge bird released from tangled barbed wire, his love and determination that she will fly again – and a young woman with a talent for bird whispering - a great healer – and a beautiful bird.

Sagittarius Serpentarius - Who has not been entranced by the iconic secretary bird.

Endemic to Africa,  the Secretary Bird occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here at our Wilded Retreat in the Eastern Highlands, we are incredibly fortunate to see them pretty much daily, and we have had up to 6 birds at the same time on Spitskop – for today they are a rare and special sighting.

In 1968 the species became protected under the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the secretary bird in 2016 as a vulnerable species and as Endangered in 2020, due to a recent rapid decline across its entire range.

Some weeks back, on a cold and windy winters day on the way to Clocolan, Allen noted a solitary secretary bird striding through the grasslands some 5 kilometers from Spitskop, so on the way home he slowed to check but the bird seemed gone. Then something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye – and he noted in horror it was the secretary bird, with feet hooked up in tangled barb wire fence and wings open and hooked – hanging upside down, was she still alive?

He had the house staff in the bakkie with him, and they all jumped out and clamored over banks through grass to the bird- she was still alive.  

The barbed tangled wire was stiff and held her in a vice grip - but with the help of the staff ladies- they managed to prize open the wire, disentangle her legs and wings and lift her gently off the barbs.

Augustinah held the bird on her lap while they raced back to the Estate, and Allen called me to come quick, he had a badly injured secretary bird.

Her legs dangled and were bleeding profusely, her head hanging – eyes glazed, but she moved when I gently touched her, she was ice cold.

We got a big blanket onto a table in the kitchen, wrapped her legs gently in crepe bandages to stem the bleeding, gave her a couple of drops of water with rescue tabs dissolved – then wrapped her up in the blanket and held her with head up until her body temperature started to rise. Amazingly, she picked up, this was a fighter, and we would do all we could to help her survive.

Marthie, our local vet, was out on a farm – but came racing through to Clocolan to meet us at the vet clinic – where we had transported the Secretary Bird wrapped in blanket - Allen holding her in the back seat.

Our wonderful gentle vet, Marthie Kleynhans, assisted by Piet, worked late into the night, cleaning wounds, for it appeared, miraculously, that there were no bones broken and the wings, although injured, these too were unbroken, anti-septic sprays and injection, and we were ready to leave.

We wrapped her again in the blanket and held in Allen’s arms, we drove home.

Although late and dark, staff came running to help when we got home, and carried a wooden crate through to the bedroom – more blankets and we laid Saggi down in the crate, where she lay flat, breath harsh, but later she tucked up into roosting position, we covered her with more blankets for she was still cold, and she seemed to sleep, exhausted.

I knew we had neither the knowledge or the skills to heal and feed this huge, beautiful bird – and early the next morning I phoned the extraordinary Lume Bowker, from Tara Rehab in Senekal/Ventersburg, who had already healed and released three owls from us. Without hesitation she said, bring the bird through - at that time I did not know Lume had just come out of hospital from a very bad fall from a horse and huge damage to her  knee.

We gathered up Saggi from the crate – with not a murmur or any sign of aggression, and once again, wrapped in the same blanket sourced from Yodi the dog, with Allen holding her in the back seat, we drove through to Senekal. Saggi was perfectly quiet, attentive, loved the sun on her face.

Lume met us on crutches – amidst worried family members,  as she was not supposed to move around, having been discharged the day before from hospital.

This wonderful huge bird took arrival at Lume’s in her stride, surrounded by barking dogs, rescued and of various sizes and shapes, birds in cages, horses, cats, a rescued pig, rooster, donkeys, she sat quietly in Allen’s arms, while a small room with infra-red light was disinfected & prepared for her.

Never once did she struggle, never once was there even the slightest sign of aggression, for that beak is deadly razor sharp- and the legs, although wrapped in a blanket, powerful and dangerous.

And so,  Saggi stayed with Lume – she found the warmth of the infra-red light almost immediately, and we were overjoyed to hear, once she had got rid of a huge pellet, that she had taken to a diet of eggs, and various gifts from local farms – a dead piglet – chickens.

She needs the blood and roughage, Lume happily told me –  thank you also to assistance from family as Lume was still on crutches.

Known as “Groot Voel”- Saggi healed, ate, was put in a larger space to start to work her wings, and  then, three weeks later - huge excitement - Lume said she was ready for release and this would be here in our fields and koppies, for this is where she came from, may even have a mate – for Sagittarius Serpentarius are monogamous and mate for life.

We scoured weather reports and found the week hence from Sunday through to Saturday, was warmer – with only light breezes – for those huge wings had not flown for 3 weeks and would need time to strengthen, as would the legs…for Sagittarius Serpentarius can walk anything up to 50kms in a day of hunting.

Sunday dawned clear and beautiful- we were beside ourselves with excitement. Wrapped in a blanket on Lume’s lap…still never once the least sign of aggression in any way- the huge bird- our Saggi Bird, was coming home.

Supported by fabulous neigbours and friends, we gathered in front of the SkyWind Cottages, large areas of open ground, no fences, home territory- the perfect setting.

One last kiss from Lume, I am sure under that cap was just a tiny tear.

The moment had come, and Saggi was again tucked up in those loving arms – those hands that had slowly and quietly disentangled her from barbed wire. For surely  – it was to Allen we turned,  to release this beautiful, majestic bird back to the wild, to the koppies and fields where she belonged.

A moment filled with great joy, but so much trepidation as well. Can she fly, will she be OK, will she make it. Released from the blanket, she raced across the field, hopped, spread her wings, and carried on walking.

I knew a piece of my heart, as well as all those assembled, and those at home waiting for a report back on the release- went with this mighty bird of Africa.

As Craig, Candis-Anne and I followed her striding across the estate – we spotted her down in the valley, clearly completely at home, hunting in the wetland.

Saggi was home.

Johan, our neighbour, sent a photo of her the next morning, up to the north of Spitskop, not far from where we released her – she looked fine and was hunting confidently, and our hearts sang.

On the 30th August 2022, 9 days after releasing Saggi – Allen, on his way to Clocolan, saw her striding confidently along the side of the road, busily hunting  – pictures are feint and far away, but she is surely the only secretary bird with blue legs – still from the vet treatment- and there they were, blue legs – and we are over the moon.