Southern Ground Hornbill

Hello to everyone and since this is my first blog of 2023, I would like to wish everyone a happy new year and I hope everyone had a great festive season spent with family and friends.

Luckily for me, I got to spend Christmas Day out in the bush. What a gift we all received on Christmas morning when the Giraffe Pride decided to join all the guests as they woke up and enjoyed their morning coffee. All the lions came and had a drink right in front of the lodge. “Not a bad way to start the morning,” said one of my guests, and I couldn’t agree more.

Just before Christmas, I was given the opportunity to go out with the Ground Hornbill Project as they were conducting research in the Timbavati. I was extremely excited to see how they work and see what happens behind the scenes. As a guide, we like to educate our guests on endangered species, the South Ground Hornbill, in particular, if we are ever lucky enough to see some.

Firstly, I would like to give an explanation as to why Ground Hornbills are endangered and why their numbers are sadly still declining outside of protected areas. It seems that the main reason why these magnificent birds have become endangered has got to do with the loss and transformation of habitats (converting what was once an area of conservation into either agricultural or residential land.) Another reason is that the females will usually lay either one or sometimes two eggs. If she lays two eggs then one will always be neglected and die, usually, the first bird that hatches will receive all the attention from the mother and the last one to hatch will die from starvation and dehydration. Therefore, it is extremely important to know exactly when the female has laid her eggs and monitor the incubation period so that if she has laid two eggs the team can go and retrieve the ‘doomed’ chick before it is left to die. These chicks will then be rescued from a certain fate and taken to the Ground Hornbill base where they will be raised to be released back into the wild. This can be done successfully by not allowing the chicks to imprint on humans and using another adult wild Ground Hornbills as mentors. By doing this these artificially raised Hornbills will double productivity and form a sustainable source of birds that can be released back into the wild and hence keep the numbers from decreasing.

We started the day with Carrie and Kyle from the Ground Hornbill project who informed us that they believed one of the female’s eggs would have hatched that day in one of the artificial nests that they had put up a large Jackalberry on the Tanda Tula property. This was extremely exciting, but it meant that we had to get out there as soon as possible in case she did have two chicks and so get to them before it was too late for the last born. Upon arrival, we watched as the mother flew out from the nest allowing Carrie to climb up the tree and investigate the situation. She shouted down that she could only see one chick and after some searching in the nest just to make sure there wasn’t a second, the baby hornbill was carefully brought down to a workstation to conduct some measurements of weight and length of the bird and length of the bill. Depending on the bird sometimes a stool sample will be taken back as well. Once all the relative information had been collected then the little chick was carefully placed back into the nest to await its mother’s return.

The team will regularly come back to the nest to monitor the chick and try to insure survival up to adulthood.

A huge thank you to Carrie and Kyle for giving us such incredible insight as to how this complicated procedure is done and also for sharing all their knowledge and expertise on the matter.

That’s all from me for now and hope to see you all in the year to come.

Until next time,