Southern Ground Hornbills are charismatic and highly intelligent birds but they are also endangered. Their main threats are the loss of suitable habitat and trees for nesting as well as secondary poisoning. To make matters worse, they breed at a mature age of 8 years and older and on average they only raise one chick to fledgling every 9 years. They lay 2 eggs but raise only one. The Johannesburg Zoo has formed a partnership with the Mabula Ground Hornbill conservation project to make a difference. Kate Meares, Project Manager, explains that they carefully observe nests of these very private birds and only collect the second chick for hand-rearing but only if the first chick appears healthy. Chicks are collected form Kruger National Park and the Association of Private Nature reserves in Mpumalanga. These chicks (transported in a polystyrene traveling box) are driven to Johannesburg Zoo on the same day and into the safe and caring hands of Lara Jordan, Curator of birds at the Johannesburg Zoo.
Once hatched, they are fed every 2 hours. The time in between is spent preparing their diet, cleaning the chicks and doing necessary health checks. Food preparation includes skinning, mice, rats, day old chicks and rabbits and chopping up meat, as these birds are carnivorous. This intensive period lasts for approximately 1 month. To ensure consistent care (as if you were the parent bird) Lara says it is better to have one person taking care of these precious chicks, hence the lack of sleep. She has been successful with all four chicks and they are now at a stage where they have daily visits to the adult pair of Southern Ground Hornbills housed at the Zoo. The chicks can be viewed at the Ground Hornbill enclosure at the Zoo in the mornings and afternoons depending on the weather. They are in a smaller separate holding space carefully looked after by keepers. They will be at the Zoo for some time and the hope is that they shall be released back into the wild.