Welcome to the Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project and big, black, booming birds in general. We would like to ensure that this site contains all you need to know about ground-hornbills and their conservation.


The charismatic Southern Ground-Hornbill (SGH, 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 they have been classified as ‘Endangered' [1], with their numbers outside of formally protected areas are still declining. It is even likely that the birds will soon meet the IUCN Red Data List Criteria as being ‘Critically Endangered’ in South Africa.


It is estimated that there are only about 1500 Ground-Hornbills left in South Africa, of which half 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 to nine birds (mean group size 3.6), but with only one alpha male and one breeding female per group and the rest of the group as helpers. This means there are only an estimated 417breeding 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 habitat to croplands, bush-encroachment, overgrazing and plantations, loss of nesting trees, secondary poisoning and electrocution.


The Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project is working to slow the decline by:

  •      Harvesting and assisting the hand-rearing of redundant second-hatched chicks that dies of starvation in the wild nests.

  •      Re-wilding of the hand-reared chicks by established groups in ‘bush’ training schools.

  •      Reintroduction of these ‘rescued’ birds back into areas where they have become locally extinct, once the original threats in those areas have been mitigated.

  •      Augmentation of non-viable groups in the wild.

  •      Provision of artificial nests for wild groups with no or inadequate nests.

  •      Research on genetics, behaviour and other important unanswered questions necessary for successful re-establishment.

  •     Coordination of Awareness Campaigns, to educate the general public to the threats facing this flagship indicator species and to reinstate the bird into collective   memory in areas where it has become locally extinct. 

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[1] Kemp & Webster 2010