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The Sad Ballad of Menes, the Egyptian #Spyduck

Menes, just before his release. Photo by H. Ibrahim, via Nature Conservation Egypt
Menes, just before his release. Photo by H. Ibrahim, via Nature Conservation Egypt

Spare a moment, and maybe a shake of the head, for Menes the #Spyduck.

Menes wasn’t a spy, and neither was he a duck. Thanks to a combination of local paranoia and spotty Arabic-to-English translation, this one-year-old White Stork was unfairly painted as both and clapped into an Egyptian jail.

Days later he was exonerated, released — and eaten.

Menes was a native of Hungary, and was following the Nile River on his migration toward the Lake Victoria basin in eastern Africa when villagers in Qena in southern Egypt spotted him at rest with a white satellite tracker fixed to his back. He was one of 115 migrating birds being tracked by a consortium of European wildlife organizations.

Egypt is in the middle of a grave crisis. The elected president Mohammad Morsi was overthrown and jailed by the military July 3. In the two months since Morsi, a senior figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, was toppled, hundreds of his followers have been killed in clashes with the army and police, including during an event that Human Rights Watch has called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” Churches are being burned, and an insurgency has flared in the Sinai Peninsula.

This agony and turmoil has only heightened a nationalist paranoia that Egyptian leaders have used for decades to help mold public opinion.

So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that, upon seeing the watering stork bearing the unusual satellite device, a fisherman in Qena put two and two together and concluded the sum was espionage. Menes was captured and taken to the police.

By the time word of this event reached the capital, on August 31, Menes had apparently been mistranslated from a stork to a duck.

A hashtag was born.

Egyptian conservationists intervened to assure police of the bird’s innocence and on September 2, after a full investigation, he was paroled to the Saluga and Ghazal islands protected area, south of Aswan.

Days later, local residents caught Menes and ate him.

Don’t be mad: People gotta eat.

As the NGO Nature Conservation Egypt noted on Facebook, “storks have been part of the Nubian diet for thousands of years, so the actual act of eating storks is not in itself a unique practice…Egypt has long suffered from issues of uncontrolled hunting.”

“However,” they continued, “it is important to always balance the needs of local communities with the needs of nature and biodiversity conservation.”

As news of the bird’s consumption spread, Egyptian authorities, perhaps fearful of another blow to the country’s reputation, denied Menes was eaten.

The former jailbird was already dead when locals found him, Mahmoud Hassib, the head of Egypt’s southern protected areas, told the Associated Press on Saturday.

So a strange chapter has ended. Meanwhile, in the Maldives, a coconut has been detained on suspicion of election rigging.

Here’s the full statement from Nature Conservation Egypt:

Sad news: Menes the White Stork has been killed.

After being safely released into the Salugah & Ghazal protected area several days ago, Menes flew off to a nearby Nile Island, where he was captured and killed, to be eaten by local villagers.

Storks have been part of the Nubian diet for thousands of years, so the actual act of eating storks is not in itself a unique practice. However, the short-lived success story of getting Menes released, was not enough to keep him safe till he exited Egypt.

Egypt has long suffered from issues of uncontrolled hunting. However, it is important to always balance the needs of local communities with the needs of nature and biodiversity conservation.

We truly are saddened by the tragic end to Menes’ journey, but once again, we would like to thank the park rangers of Aswan for their excellent initial efforts to get Menes the White Stork released safely into a protected area.

The entire region has a very long way to go, specially in the field of raising awareness on hunting and migratory birds.

NCE will keep you updated on such efforts and projects.