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We at Mabula Game Lodge are very proud to be associated with the incredible work that Project Manager, Dr Lucy Kemp, and her team are doing with the award-winning Mabula Ground Hornbill Project that has been operating from premises in the Mabula Private Game Reserve since 1999.

When guests arrive in the Lodge reception area it is hard for them not to notice the life-size bronze sculpture of a Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) that has pride of place near the entrance.

It is here that they often get there first understanding of what this important project is striving to achieve, which is to change the perceptions around this iconic yet endangered species. This is being achieved through a multi-disciplinary and “boots-on-the-ground” conservation strategy.

With an impressive call, this large and iconic bird will often appear out of the grass when least expected. And, given its size and striking black and bright red colours, is often momentarily mistaken for a small mammal rather than a bird.

Although they are currently seen as ‘vulnerable’ throughout Africa, in South Africa they are seen as ‘endangered’ as their numbers are on the decline outside protected areas like Mabula. The Hornbill is culturally important and hence is not killed for its meat but are sometimes killed for their plumage. Known as the thunder or rain bird they are relied upon to announce the arrival of the rain in the areas in which they reside.

At Mabula small groups can be found proudly strutting around the savannah areas, looking like elderly folk out for a stroll. Easy to spot while out on a game drive and their presence always leads to interesting discussions. (Visitors from the USA often mistaking them for wild turkeys).

We at Mabula Game Lodge like our guests to be informed and educated when it comes to an important species like the Southern Ground Hornbill, and to help our visitors, here are some facts which we hope you will find helpful and will give you a better understanding of this charismatic bird.

At up to 130cm and weighing in at an impressive 2,5-6kg, this is the largest of all the hornbill species.

Seen as a valuable flagship species for the savannah biome, they are as important as White Rhino, cheetah, wild dog, and certain vulture species.

One of the reasons for their decline is the loss of habitat due to human development, and in certain areas, over-grazing and the loss of large trees for nesting.

The project current functions on several levels where chicks that might have died in the wild are reared, then mentored by experienced wild adult male birds in “bush-schools’ after which they are finally released into areas that they used to frequent naturally.

Guests are encouraged to visit the project while staying at Mabula, to see first-hand the work that is being done and at the same time to contribute in a material way to keep the project financially viable.

The Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, is proud to announce that the Birdlife South Africa ‘Bird of the Year’ for 2020 is the Southern Ground-Hornbill. Given the fact that COVID-19 has taken away some of the exposure that a ‘Bird-of-the-year’ would normally enjoy, the team involved with the project are grateful that the species has been recognized in this manner.

The Bird of the Year initiative is to raise awareness and understanding of this endangered species and by doing so will enable the efforts to conserve and increase the current populations to persevere and thrive.

So, if you notice the sculpture when you are being checked-in by our welcoming and friendly staff, ask how you can contribute to the project (

Help us to ensure that these culturally important species continue to roam the African savannas and grasslands for generations to come.