The Timbavati Private Nature Reserveis home to one of the most successful Southern Ground-Hornbill breeding projects in South Africa. This large, decidedly strange looking bird is the largest cooperatively breeding bird in the world. However, due to their slow reproductive rate, lack of natural nesting sites, social structure and climate change, the Ground-Hornbill is now classified as “endangered”.
Thanks to the incredible work being done in the Associated Private Nature Reserve(APNR) and further afield within the country by students from the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, researchers are contributing not only to the growth in understanding of these birds , but more importantly to the increase in numbers, helping to change the fate of this Hornbill.
The Southern Ground-Hornbill has very specific nesting requirements which are basically large open holes in trees that are 4 meters above the ground. This does not give them many options in the region surrounding Tanda Tula. However, it was these very specific requirements that lead to researchers installing artificial nests. The nests were placed strategically within the fiercely defended territories of each group of birds found in the Timbavati.
During the breeding season the female Hornbill lays 2 eggs, but usually only the first chick survives as the mother tends to focus all her energy on this youngster and the second chick dies from dehydration. This instinctive behaviour has opened the perfect opportunity for researchers to harvest the second hatched chick, hand-rear it and then reintroduce it.
The installation of these artificial nests in the Greater Kruger has not only meant that the birds are now able to habituate a much larger area, but also that the breeding success has increased from one fledgling very 9 years to now one fledgling being reported every 3.5 years. That is an absolutely amazing achievement. Since 2010, the Timbavati has harvested 31 second-hatched chicks, and every single one of them has successfully been reared for the reintroduction program. This is an incredible achievement and it is so rewarding to really see the benefits of a program such as this.