Booooom… that’s the sound the groundbreaking Mabula Ground Hornbill Project is fighting to protect. Launched in 1999, this conservation initiative strives to combat the declining numbers of the endangered and aptly named Thunder Bird, the Southern Ground Hornbill, of which there are only about 1 500 left in South Africa.
Mabula Game Reserve has been selected as one of the few release and reintroduction sites in South Africa, hosting on-site researchers whose mandate it is to enhance and develop expertise in caring for this endangered species.
As part of the initiative, eggs are harvested in and around the Kruger National Park, where at least half of South Africa’s Southern Ground Hornbill population is located, and are then taken to hand-rearing facilities after which they are either selected for captive breeding or are placed in Bush Schools. Special release sites are then selected once these birds are mature enough to be released in to the wild and form a breeding group, comprising two to nine birds.
The Southern Ground Hornbill is an extraordinarily unique bird species that lives in social, cooperative breeding groups with only one alpha male and one breeding female per group, with the rest of the group helping to rear the fledgling. There are currently only an estimated 417 breeding groups throughout the whole of South Africa and on average only one fledgling per group is raised to adulthood every nine years.
As carnivores, these birds are particularly susceptible to poison traps laid down by farmers against jackals and other predators on farms. The loss of habitat caused by eradication of big trees, which Southern Ground Hornbills require to breed, is a further cause of their rapid demise.
Despite the passionate intervention by Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, recognised internationally as a Species Guardian, and other conservationists, it is estimated that it could take as long as 100 years for this bird species to be at a stable state.
There is hope, however, as with the loss of every bird, the Ground Hornbill Project is tweaking its rearing and reintroduction recipe, with a special focus on education in schools and among farmers and communities in areas in which these birds are endemic.
Visitors to Mabula Game Lodge can enjoy a once-weekly special Southern Ground Hornbill Drive on Wednesdays during which they will learn about this fascinating bird species and the project that is fighting to keep it alive. The proceeds go to the conservation project.
Who is Jac and why is he so important to the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project? Jac, named after the location of his nest – Jacaranda – is the first Southern Ground Hornbill in this initiative to have been bred from a captive hand-reared female released in to the wild. He is a success story. Not only is he heading up his very own Southern Ground Hornbill breeding community in the wild, he is also doing something great for his species by teaching other Southern Ground Hornbills released in to his care.
Mabula Private Game Reserve is the proud home of three cheetah that were released on to the reserve and have been extensively studied to determine how they have adapted to their new home and to what extent they are impacting on their prey species, kudu and impala.
The two male cheetahs were released in January 2012 and upon ascertaining that the breeding of kudu and impala far outweighed the numbers hunted by cheetah it was decided to introduce a female cheetah.
The female arrived safely at Mabula in November 2013 and was placed in a boma to re-orientate herself to her new surroundings. She was released onto the greater Mabula Private Game Reserve, an area of about 10 000 hectares in December.
Mabula’s long-term plan is to allow this female to have young and rear them in the wild. These cubs will then be put up for adoption by other reserves forming part of the South African Cheetah Meta-population Management Program. In doing this, Mabula is helping to secure the growth of the cheetah population on privately owned land.