Staff Reporter

Conservationists are hoping the release of a pair of hand-reared Southern Ground Hornbills will boost the species’ numbers in the wild.

The National Zoological Gardens of SA’s co-operative conservation programme of Southern Ground Hornbills recently received some good news with the release of two 18-month-old birds into the wild at Mabula Game Reserve in Limpopo.

There, it is hoped that they will learn the life skills required regarding territory and producing chicks of their own.

Craig Allenby, manager of commercial services and business development at the zoo, said the programme is a collaborative effort by the zoo on behalf of the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

“The two birds, Imbambala and Janowski, are both part of this conservation programme to help save this species of bird.

“They are considered to be vulnerable by the world conservation organisation’s red data list. This indicates that it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild,” said Allenby.

The species is particularly susceptible to persecution by humans and habitat loss as it breeds slowly. Disturbance at cliff sites and the removal of large trees pose a threat to the survival of these birds. Other threats include deforestation, poisoning and the use of the birds in local cultural practices, such as rain-making. Another threat is direct persecution as a result of their habit of attacking their reflection in windows, which can cause property damage.

Many pairs do not attempt to breed every year, and when they do nest they only ever rear a single chick; on average a pair only successfully produce a chick once every nine years.

The National Zoological Gardens of SA works closely with the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project and others on this programme.

“Each partner plays a crucial role…and the release of these two birds into the wild is testament to the project’s success,” said Allenby.