Southern Ground Hornbill Project

 

The Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri is a conservation icon of South African savannas. During the 20th Century its range and population size in South Africa decreased by some two thirds, with the birds disappearing from much of their historical range. Such a rapid decrease in the population of a long-lived, slow-breeding animal is of great conservation concern and, based on IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) criteria, the official conservation status of Southern Ground-Hornbills in Southern Africa has been elevated from Vulnerable to Endangered.

The reasons for their decline are mainly habitat loss and persecution. Poisoning is also a concern since Ground-Hornbills are carnivorous they are sometimes the unintentional victim of poisoning by consuming carcases laced with poisoning aimed at killing off livestock predators such as leopard and jackal. Because of the Ground-Hornbills’ complex social structure and slow breeding rate, self-reintroduction would, at best, be very slow. This means that reintroduction programmes are probably imperative to improve the species’ precarious conservation status.

Various organisations are working together now to ensure the long-term survival of this species in the wild. Together we form the Ground Hornbill Action Group and meet at various times in the year to discuss our findings, achievements and future plans. Organisations such as the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project, Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Large Birds of Prey Working Group, Johannesburg Zoo, Pretoria’s National Zoo, Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism, and others put together a Recovery Plan for the species to guide all involved and to lay out goals and objectives for the coming years.

Read More

SNAPSHOT OF SOUTHERN GROUND-HORNBILLS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

  • There are approximately 3000 birds left in the wild in southern Africa

  • Their distribution extends from as far south as the Eastern Cape in SA all the way up to Kenya

  • In South Africa the total number is estimated to be around 1500 birds, most of them occurring here in Kruger National Park as well as the Limpopo River Valley

  • Groups comprise an alpha pair as well as numerous male sub-adult helpers. It is not yet fully understood where females go when they leave the group at a young age

  • They nest in large cavities in trees, occasionally in cliffs

  • They are very competent fliers but they fly low at canopy height

  • They are strict carnivores eating snakes, lizards, insects, tortoises, birds

  • Their closest relative is the Abyssinian or Northern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus

HISTORY OF THE PROJECT IN THE APNR
(ASSOCIATED PRIVATE NATURE RESERVE)

The Institute started monitoring groups of ground-hornbills in the APNR in 2000, and erected some 30 artificial nests in 2002 and 2003. The original rationale for this study was an exploration of social behaviour in the world’s largest cooperatively breeding bird.

The Fitztitute’s Southern Ground-Hornbill Research Programme aims to gain a scientific understanding of the environmental conditions which promote the survival and successful reproduction of these birds.

We will use this knowledge to:

• Gain a scientific understanding of the environmental conditions that promote the survival and successful reproduction of Southern Grounds-Hornbills.

• Provide the scientific information to guide reintroduction programmes such that their efficiency and efficacy are optimized.

If you would like to get in touch with the Project, please email the current researcher at nghututu[at]gmai[dot]com or phone her on 083 381 7555. We are always interested to hear from landowners if they have any sightings to report or questions to ask.

PROJECT RATIONALE

In many cases, however, the drivers of local extinctions are known, and in some instances these are no longer operative. Because of the groundhornbills’ complex social structure, self-reintroduction would, at best, be very slow. This means that reintroduction programmes need to be considered in an attempt to improve the species’ precarious conservation status. Given this set of circumstances, the Southern Ground-Hornbill Research and Conservation Programme has the following overarching aims:

To gain a scientific understanding of the environmental conditions that promote the survival and successful reproduction of Southern Ground-Hornbills.

To use this knowledge to identify areas previously occupied by ground-hornbills that are now suitable for their reintroduction.

To provide the scientific information to guide reintroduction programmes such that their efficiency and efficacy are optimized.

 

Key Results

The Percy FitzPatrick Institute has been monitoring group distribution, composition and breeding performance of ground-hornbills at the APNR since the breeding season of 2001/2002. We now have reproductive data spanning nine breeding seasons. In 2009/2010, MSc student Gwyneth Wilson analysed the first eight years of data from this long-term monitoring to determine the factors influencing differences in reproductive performance between groups. There were major differences in reproductive success amongst the 23 ground-hornbill groups monitored within the APNR. Over the period 2001-2008 there were some highly successful groups that bred and fledged a chick almost every year, whereas other groups either did not breed or did not rear a single chick over the same period. During 2001–2008 (184 possible group breeding years) there were a total of 67 breeding attempts by 17 of the 23 groups.