Ground hornbills are always a special sight to see… These 3 were very relaxed and approached our vehicle whilst we were on game drive in Kruger National Park. They are the largest species in the hornbill family and sadly they are classified as endangered. There are many factors that have contributed to their demise: One of these factors is the traditional belief that if you kill a hornbill and bury his head in your village, your village will prosper.
Another factor states that if a hornbill were to land on your hut someone in your family would die.
These ideas and beliefs have led to the killing of many of these birds. As they are carnivorous and eat carrion they are also vulnerable to poisoned meats that are often put out by stock farmers for jackals, caracals etc. The other main reason why their numbers are dropping lies in their own biology;
- Hornbills live in ‘family groups’; each group has a breeding pair.
- They are the only birds in the group that breed. The birds only reach sexual maturity at the age of 8, but will only start breeding around the age of 13.
- Then only 2 eggs are laid and the first chick to hatch will destroy the other egg.
- Now, this 1 chick is raised with all the help of the entire group for the next 3/4 years before they will breed again.
There are ongoing projects to save them. Some eggs are stolen from the nests (before the one chick can kill the eggs) and the chicks raised with puppets that look like adult birds and then they are released into the wild. Hopefully in time we may save this striking bird from extinction.