Context and Chronology of the Project
|1967||Long-term field studies of the species initiated in Kruger National Park (KNP)|
|1973||First chick harvest from KNP.|
|1974||Kemps’ initiated a long-term focal study of SGHs around Satara Rest Camp, KNP.|
|1991-98||Focal study expanded to cover the whole KNP.|
|1994||Five harvested chicks reared and the first reintroduction attempt into Maloltja Nature Reserve, Swaziland.|
|1999||First successful captive breeding South Africa, three harvested and hand-reared chicks released onto Mabula Private Game Reserve.|
|1999-2000||Hendri Coetzee heads operations at Mabula.|
|2001||Mabula officially registered as an NPO with Ann Turner as manager of Mabula Project and chair of the Action Group which coordinates SGH conservation in South Africa, now based on a national Species Recovery Plan compiled by all parties in 2011 .|
|2005||4th International Hornbill Conference convened at Mabula Game Lodge, with a special SGH session and week-long EWT-led Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) for the species across South Africa, to which interested parties from across the country were invited.|
|2007||Released group at Mabula successfully fledged a chick (and again in 2012).|
|2010||Ann Turner retired as coordinator and Kate Meares took on the position briefly before moving on to continue the FitzPatrick project in the Associated Private Nature Reserves.|
|2011||Lucy Kemp took over management.|
|2012||Lucy Kemp elected chair person of the Action Group.|
Compiled by Dr Alan Kemp, Ann Turner
and Nicholas Theron
The Mabula Ground Hornbill Research and Conservation Project (Mabula Project) had its origins in April 1999 when three recently fledged Southern Ground-Hornbill (SGH) chicks were delivered to the Mabula Game Reserve in the back of an old red Toyota Hi-Ace minivan. The concept for the project, with a mission to halt the decline of SGHs in South Africa by 2015, had its roots in long-term field studies of the species in the Kruger National Park (KNP) that began in 1967, when Alan Kemp started his post-graduate studies there on small hornbills but started watching these, the largest hornbills, whenever they crossed his path. Joined in 1968 by his wife Meg, the Kemps initiated a long-term focal study of SGHs around Satara Rest Camp in 1974 and later expanded it to cover the whole of the KNP, especially during 1991-98 (refs 1-9, 13-16), with aspects of data collection continued to this day by the Mabula Project and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).
One of the by-products of this population study was the discovery that SGHs only bred once a year, usually laid a clutch of two eggs, but only ever fledged one chick per nesting attempt. This suggested that, if necessary, these redundant chicks might be used for conservation or utilisation purposes, provided that their harvest had no significant effect on the parent population. The first test of these ideas, initiated when KNP veterinarian Eddie Young was involved in a wildlife film on baby animals in 1973, was when the Kemps first took one of the second-laid eggs and swopped it with a single addled egg in another nest, with both first-laid eggs being hatched successfully, and then removed another second-hatched chick that was hand-fed and filmed (but did not survive past three weeks, dying of intestinal impaction – still a problem to this day – resulting from it being fed mainly on quelea eggs and then chicks, the latter becoming increasingly feathered as they grew towards fledging).
Over subsequent years, starting from 1973, whenever the Kemps had time and there were second chicks available, they harvested them for the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) at Pretoria to test the feasibility of hand-rearing and help establish captive breeding stock, with the help of a series of NZG staff including Eugene Marais, Delecia Gunn and Jackie Rankin. The first chick hand-raised to fledging was by André Mathee (then died from eating a poisoned rat that entered its cage), but improved techniques and management led to better chick survival so that by 1994, after a good year when five harvested chicks were reared, the first reintroduction attempt for the species was made into the escarpment grasslands of Maloltja Nature Reserve in Swaziland with the help of Richard Boycott, where the birds survived for three months but were lost gradually to natural predators (2), hunters (1) and starvation (2) (ref 12). Some chicks from the KNP and from a second field study in KwaZulu-Natal by Gary Knight (ref 10) went to Alan Abrey at the Umgeni River Bird Park in Durban, where the first successful captive breeding in South Africa was achieved in 1999 by Shaun Wilkinson and, immediately afterwards by Delicia Gunn at Loskop Dam Nature Reserve (ref 11). From 1969 until 2003, 62 chicks had been harvested, their subsequent survival initially below but with experience similar to rates found in the wild (ref 30).
After the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, the northern tip off the KNP, the so-called 25,000 ha Pafuri Triangle, was soon reclaimed by the Makuleke community in May 1998, since they had been forcefully removed in 1969, but they negotiated to keep the Triangle as a contiguous conservation area under joint-management with the KNP authorities. In return, the Makuleke investigated and developed commercial ventures on their wildlife land, such as the tourist lodges now in operation there. One of the other projects investigated was the potential for the Makuleke community to exploit local resources, such as the harvest, rearing and disposal of redundant hornbill, eagle and owl chicks found within the Pafuri Triangle (ref 18). The young chicks were reared under supervision at the Pretoria NZG by two MSc students from the University of Venda, Rodgers Mabasa and Leslie Mudimeli, while two MA students from the University of the North, Elsie Makatu and Elizabeth Khosa, investigated community attitudes to and expectations from harvested chicks (refs 19-22). Once the chicks were about one-third grown, they were transferred from the NZG to the new Makuleke village at Ntlaveni on the western border of the KNP, where a hut was hired to house the chicks and as much of their food as possible purchased from the villagers, all with the help of one of their technikon students, Clifford Chauke, who was seconded to the project. The eagle and owl chicks reared were hacked back into the adjacent KNP, but three hornbills had to find a more suitable home and hence their trip in a local taxi-like vehicle to start the Mabula Project in 1999.
Mabula was selected as a release and reintroduction site for two main reasons. First, the Reserve was considered large enough to support a group of SGHs, since it exceeded the estimated 100 km2 required by wild groups in the KNP and KwaZulu-Natal, had well-managed bushveld and grassland habitats stocked with large game animals, receptive personnel and management, and fell near the centre of the historic range from which the species had been extirpated. Second, a whole-owner living on the reserve, Ann Turner, fascinated by SGHs after seeing them at Umgeni River Bird Park, opted to manage their reintroduction, assisted initially by Clifford Chauke as hornbill shepherd, hired as part of the Makuleke agreement, and Hendri Coetzee, a game guide at Mabula who initiated the contact and went on to run operations during 1999-2000. A series of project staff, including Dee de Waal, Jantjies Malekwa, Rina Greyvenstein, Charles Mphamo, Donna Sweet and Nicholas Theron, and overseas volunteers and other parties, including from Chester Zoo (UK) and San Diego Zoo and Seaworld (USA), came and went as harvesting of chicks from the KNP for hand-rearing was expanded. At the same time, the Mabula group was established, enlarged and used to foster stock for various other reintroduction attempts at Marakele and Madikwe, surveys of SGHs were expanded into a national effort, and trials were made to augment lone wild birds, as at Haenertsberg, or to establish groups at the edge of the species' range (ref 32), as at Shamwari in the Eastern Cape. The Mabula Project NGO was then the sole agency leading the national conservation of SGHs but, since no-one had ever tried to harvest, rear, release or study SGHs outside of the KNP, there was a steep learning curve at each step. Trying to find out how to distinguish natural from anthropogenic threats to success (such as Newcastle's Disease, transformer electrocution, indirect poisoning and direct shootings), develop protocols for guiding each procedure (from nest inspection and harvesting to reintroduction), and assimilate the new knowledge and experience accumulated across the country (developing databases of historical records and national sightings).
By 2003, it was evident that the surviving SGH population in South Africa could be divided roughly in two, about half of them (200-300 breeding pairs/groups) protected within the greater KNP conservation areas of the Lowveld, the rest scattered across their remaining habitats in the largely unprotected rural areas of the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces (ref 17). Since 2001 the Mabula Project had been constituted as an official NGO, with its own Management Committee, but it was situated in the SGH's historical bushveld range, where the reintroduction of redundant chicks to refill this habitat was being pioneered, rather than in the current lowveld range of the species. It was then decided to launch a satellite project in the Lowveld along the western edge of the KNP, to test techniques that might enable wild groups, living near the edge of the species' range, to improve their breeding success and maybe expand back into unoccupied neighbouring areas. The Mabula Project sent Yuval Erlich, an Israeli volunteer, to develop this plan among the private conservation properties bordering the KNP, mainly the Sabi Sands and the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) of Timbavati, Klaserie and Umbabat, settling finally on the APNR as his primary study area. The main ideas to be tested were provision of artificial nest sites (since nest cavity availability had been found limiting in KNP), supplementary feeding (to enable females to lay earlier and/or larger clutches), double-clutching (if females would relay after early first clutches were removed for incubation), and chick re-integration (if hand-reared chicks could be fostered back into wild groups, expand group productivity and/or ensure better survival skills for the chicks). The artificial nest logs proved successful, initial supplementary feeding had equivocal results, double-clutching was not attempted, and a leopard killed the first chick held in a boma before reintegration.
After about a year in the field, Erlich claimed that under some circumstances second-hatching chicks might survive (questioning their redundancy), and that groups were not always sedentary on their breeding territories (questioning if they could be reintroduced into restricted areas). This threw one of the main sponsors at the time for the Mabula Project (Nedbank Green Trust via World Wildlife Fund SA) into a quandry, initiated a specially formed Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Ground Hornbill Working Group (GHWG), and almost sank the Mabula Project. It led, in February 2005, to a week-long EWT-led Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) for the species across South Africa, to which interested parties from across the country were invited. By this time Erlich had left the country, the APNR project and its sponsors had been adopted by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (PFIAO) at the University of Cape Town, to whom Erlich had pleaded his case, and the project direction was shifted into ecology rather than population-expansion. Coincidentally, by November 2005, the 4th International Hornbill Conference convened at Mabula Game Lodge, with a special SGH session at which, among other things (refs 23-31), Erlich's claims about second chick survival were refuted, his ideas on territoriality appeared fallible, the preliminary success of the artificial nest provision on the APNR was reported by the PFIAO, and the success thus far in harvesting, rearing and reintroducing second chicks, including captive-bred ones, was re-evaluated and found similar to patterns in wild KNP populations.
After all that, with the continued support of such key sponsors as the World Wildlife for Nature (WWF), Sasol and Vodacom, the Mabula Project expanded its activities in other directions: Nicholas Theron studied SGH populations in the Limpopo Valley, erected artificial nest boxes there and earned his B.Tech and M.Sc. (ref 34, 39, 41-42); an international genetics study on the SGH was initiated, coordinated by Professor Antoinette Kotze at the NZG and involving most of the recognised zoos in North America and Europe (ref 38); a more rigorous estimation of past and present SGH range and numbers in South Africa was compiled (ref 33); and an exploratory expedition to trap and bleed SGHs in Kenya so testing the feasibility of a species-wide genetic survey (ref 40). Unfortunately, the results of all this work helped raise our concern for the SGH, so that Birdlife International, after their own further investigations, lowered its global IUCN status from Near Threatened to Vulnerable, while Birdlife South Africa downgraded the species' national survival probability from Vulnerable to Endangered.
Meanwhile, the PFIAO continued to run the APNR project (ref 26) and the EWT's GHWG conducted some survey and awareness programmes but then merged into their Bird of Prey Working Group (BoPWG) and now continues mainly with location and checking of SGH nests in the KNP for harvest. Annual harvesting of second chicks, from the KNP and latterly the APNR, is still coordinated by the Mabula Project, but a captive-breeding subgroup now manages a national studbook for the species, delegates chick-rearing to various facilities, and decides on allocation of stock between captive and reintroduction efforts. As of 20 March 2012 there were 77 living SGHs being managed in South Africa, 51 of southern African origin, 20 of Tanzanian and unknown origin and 6 in releases for reintroduction (T. Rehse, 2012, unpublished). To cap all efforts thus far, the free-living reintroduced Mabula group bred successfully in their artificial nest in 2007 and 2011, led by 'Kingfisher', their alpha female harvested in KNP and handreared by the Project, and 'Storm', their alpha male rescued a the sole survivor when his group was poisoned.
One effect of the PHVA, EWT-GHWG formation and International Hornbill Conference was to attract the attention of various new role players interested in SGH conservation. Fortunately, Willie Labuschagne, Director of the NZG and long involved with SGH harvesting and hand-rearing, had earlier recognised the dilemma of multiple interests involved in SGH conservation and had offered logistics to enable a national SGH Action Group to form and hold regular meetings. The first meeting, held in June, 2001, elected Ann Turner, Manager of the Mabula Project, as chair and from then until now the Action Group has coordinated and directed SGH conservation in South Africa, now based on a national Species Recovery Plan compiled by all parties in 2011 (refs 35-37). Ann retired from Co-ordinator of the Mabula Project and chair of the Action Group in 2010. Kate Meares then ran the Mabula Project briefly, before moving on to run the APNR project for the PFIAO, while Andre Botha of the EWT-GHWG/BoPWG chaired the Action Group until Lucy Kemp took over management of the Mabula Project in May 2011 and was elected chairperson of the Action Group in October 2012.
Publications related to the history of the Mabula Project:
1. Kemp, A.C. & Kemp, M.I. 1974. Don't forget the big birds. African Wildlife 28:12-13.
2. Kemp, A.C. 1974. Factors affecting the onset of breeding in African hornbills. Proceedings of the 16th International Ornithological Congress: 248-257.
3. Kemp, A.C. & Kemp, M.I. 1975. Studying the basic biology of the Southern Ground Hornbill. Bulletin of the Transvaal Museum 15:6-7.
4. Kemp, A.C. & Kemp, M.I. 1980. The biology of the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri (Vigors) (Aves: Bucerotidae). Annals of the Transvaal Museum 32:65-100.
5. Kemp, A.C. 1985. Attempts to save the ground hornbill. Natura 9:42.
6. Kemp, A. C. 1987. Ground Hornbills under pressure in South Africa. African Wildlife 41: 293.
7. Kemp, A.C., Joubert, S.C.J. & Kemp, M.I. 1989. Distribution of Southern Ground Hornbills in the Kruger National Park in relation to some environmental factors. South African Journal for Wildlife Research 19(3): 93-98.
8. Kemp, A. C. 1990. Behavioural ecology of the Southern Ground Hornbill: are competitive offspring at a premium? Proceedings of International 100 Deutscheornitologen-Gesselschaft Meeting: Current topics in avian biology, pp. 267-271, Bonn, 1988.
9. Kemp, A.C. and Kemp, M.I. 1991. Timing of egglaying by Southern Ground Hornbills Bucorvus leadbeateri in the central Kruger National Park, South Africa. Ostrich 62(1&2):80-82.
10. Knight, G. 1991. (University of Natal, Durban, co-supervisors Messrs Colin Sapsford and Bruce Page, full-time). Registered 1989, graduated cum laude 1991. Thesis title: A preliminary investigation into the status, distribution and some aspects of the foraging ecology of the Southern Ground Hornbill (B. cafer).
11. Marais, E. R. 1993. Captive breeding project for the Southern Ground Hornbill at National Zoological Gardens, Pretoria. Birdlife International Hornbill Group Newsletter 2(2): 4.
12. Kemp, A. C. 1995. Walking with ground hornbills. A dream come true. Birds Africa Nov/Dec 1995:10-15.
13. Kemp, A. C. 1996. Hammer of the Savanna. BBC Wildlife 14(5): 32-36.
14. Kemp, A.C. & Begg, K.S. 1996. Nest sites of the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, and conservation implications. Ostrich 67:9-14.
15. Kemp, A.C., Benn, G.A. and Begg, K.S. 1998. Geographical analysis of vegetation structure and sightings of four large bird species in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Bird Conservation International 8: 89-108.
16. Kemp, A. C. & Begg, K. S. 2000. Comparison of time-activity budgets and population structure for 18 large-bird species in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Ostrich 72 (3&4): 179-184.
17. Kemp, A. C. 2000. Southern Ground Hornbill. In: The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Barnes, K. N. (ed.). Birdlife South Africa, Johannesburg. Pp. 117-119.
18. Kemp, A. C. 2000. The sustainable utilisation of birds. Emu 100: 355-365.
19. Makatu, E. 2001. (University of the North, co-supervisor Prof Benson Nindi). Registered July 1998, graduated 2001. Thesis title: Rural community perceptions of sustainable utilisation of second-hatched chicks of Southern Ground Hornbill, African Hawk-eagle and Giant Eagle-owl.
20. Khosa, E. 2001 (University of the North, co-supervisor Prof Benson Nindi). Registered July 1998, graduated 2001. Thesis title: Conservation community perceptions of sustainable utilisation of second-hatched chicks of Southern Ground Hornbill, African Hawk-eagle and Giant Eagle-owl.
21. Mabasa, R. In prep. (University of Venda, co-supervisor Prof Ian Gaigher). Registered Jan. 1998. Thesis title: Harvest and husbandry of second-hatched chicks of Southern Ground Hornbill, African Hawk-eagle and Giant Eagle-owl. Waiting for completion of thesis, since deceased.
22. Mudimeli,L. In prep. (University of Venda, co-supervisor Prof Ian Gaigher). Registered Jan. 1998. Thesis title: Resource use and yield of second-hatched chicks of Southern Ground Hornbill, African Hawk-eagle and Giant Eagle-owl. Waiting for completion of thesis.
23. Coetzee, H. C. 2007. ‘Oxpecker’ ground hornbills: a new symbiotic interaction between the Southern Ground Hornbill and African Warthog. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 396. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
24. Morrison, K, Daly, B., Burden, D., Engelbrecht, D., Jordan, M., Kemp, A., Kemp, M., Potgieter, C., Turner, A. & Friedmann, Y. (eds). 2005. Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) PHVA. Workshop Report. Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (SSC/IUCN)/ CBSG South Africa, Endangered Wildlife Trust.
25. Morrison, K., Daly, B., Burden, D, Engelbrecht, D., Jordan, M., Kemp, A., Kemp, M., Potgieter, C., Turner, A. & Friedmann, Y. 2007. A conservation plan for the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri in South Africa. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 3-12. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
26. Du Plessis, M., Erlich, Y., Ross-Gillespie, A. & Rode, S. 2007. The use of artificial nest sites by Southern Ground Hornbills in a private conservation area of South Africa. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats For Conservation, p. 299. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
27. Engelbrecht, D., Theron, N., Turner, A., van Wyk, J. & Pienaar, K. 2007. The status and conservation of Southern Ground Hornbills Bucorvus leadbeateri in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 231-240. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
28. Englebrecht, D., de Waal, D., du Plooy, D., Theron, N., Turner, A. & Wilkinson, S. 2007. Growth curve analysis of hand-reared Southern and Northern Ground Hornbill nestlings. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 397-401. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
29. Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. 2007. What proportion of Southern Ground Hornbill nesting attempts fledge more than one chick? Data from the Kruger National Park. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 267-286. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
30. Kemp, A. C., Kemp, M. I. & Turner, A. 2007. What has become of eggs and chicks of Southern Ground Hornbills harvested from the Kruger National Park? In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 288-297. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
31. Theron, N. T., Turner, A. & de Waal, D. 2007. The Ground Hornbill Research and Conservation Nonprofit Organisation on Mabula. In: Kemp, A. C. & Kemp, M. I. (eds). The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation, pp. 393-394. CD-ROM Proceedings of the 4th International Hornbill Conference, Mabula Game Lodge, Bela-Bela, South Africa. Naturalists & Nomads, Pretoria.
32. Hulley, P. E. & Craig, A.J.F.K. 2007. The status of the Southern Ground-Hornbill in the Grahamstown region, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Ostrich 78(1): 89–92.
33. Kemp, A. & Webster, R. 2008. Latest analysis of Southern Ground Hornbill (SGH) distribution and population in South Africa: December 2008. Unpublished.
34. Theron, N.T. 2008. The foraging ecology of re-introduced Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) on Mabula Private Game Reserve, Limpopo Province. Unpublished B-Tech thesis, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria.
35. Theron, N. & Turner, A. 2008. Ten years on: a re-introduction of Southern Ground Hornbill on Mabula Private Game Reserve in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
In: Soorae, P.S. (Ed.). Global Re-introduction Perspectives. Re-introduction Case Studies from Around the World. IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group. Abu
Dhabi, UAE. Pp. 104-107.
36. Theron N., Kotze A., Jansen R., Grobler P., & Turner A. 2010. A multi-disciplined approach to the future conservation of the Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) in Africa. 25th International Ornithological Congress, Campos do Jordao, Brazil, 20-28 August (Oral presentation). Sponsored by the National Zoological Gardens and Tshwane University of Technology.
37. Jordan, M., (ed.). 2011. Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) Species Recovery Plan for South Africa. Unpublished.
38. Kotze, A. May 2011. Report on genetic sampling and microsatellite population structure in the Southern Ground Hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri). Unpublished summary to SGH Colloquium, Mabula.
39. Theron, N. T. 2011. Genetic connectivity, population dynamics and habitat selection of the Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) in the Limpopo Province. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis (graduated cum laude), University of the Free State, Bloemfontein.
40. Theron, N.T. & Kemp, L. 2012. Capture protocol for Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri). Unpublished
41. Theron, N.T., Dalton, D., Grobler, J.P., Jansen, R. and Kotze, A. In press. Molecular insights on the re-colonization of the Limpopo Valley, South Africa, by Southern Ground-Hornbills. Journal of Ornithology.
42. Theron, N.T., Jansen, R., Grobler, J.P. and Kotze, A. In review. A case study of the home range of a recently established group of Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) in the Limpopo Valley. Koedoe.