Mabula Private Game Reserve has been the home of the award-winning Mabula Ground Hornbill Project since 1999. This non-profit conservation project aims to change perceptions – and the fortunes – of this iconic but endangered species, through multi-disciplinary and evidence-based conservation techniques.
The charismatic Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is a bird that many people already know well. They are culturally important as the ‘thunder’ or ‘rain’ birds and are a flagship species for the savannah biome (along with cheetah, white rhino and several vulture species).
At present, Southern Ground-Hornbills are considered internationally as ‘Vulnerable’ throughout their range in Africa by the IUCN, but within South Africa and Namibia they have been classified as Endangered with their numbers outside of formally protected areas still in decline.
It is estimated that there are only about 1 500 Ground Hornbills left in South Africa, of which only a third are safe within the protected areas of the greater Kruger National Park. The birds live in social, cooperatively breeding groups that consist of between two and nine birds, but with only one alpha male and one breeding female per group, the rest of the group are helpers to defend the territory and feed the female and chick. This means there are only an estimated 400-500 breeding groups in the whole of South Africa, while data from the Kruger National Park shows that, on average, only one chick is raised to adulthood every nine years.
The reasons for their decline are predominantly loss of nesting trees, secondary poisoning, electrocution, loss of habitat to croplands, bush encroachment, overgrazing and monoculture.
The Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project is working to slow the decline by:
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.