Providing artificial nests for southern ground hornbills in the Zambezi Region, Namibia

Closeup of a southern ground hornbill

Africa's southern ground hornbill population is in decline. In Namibia, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism is currently working with Mabula Ground Hornbill Project in South Africa to monitor the population and has recently developed a national management strategy for the species in Namibia via multiple field-based stakeholder engagements and a conservation planning workshop that ensured that the people who share the land with this bird are instrumental in designing its conservation action plan.

Fire, logging, and the lack of suitable nest trees due to the activity of elephants are some of the major threats facing these birds. Southern ground hornbills are both ecologically—as a top-order predator—and culturally—as the bringer of rain, banisher of droughts, killer of snakes, keeper of time—valuable. It has been determined that in some parts of the range, cultural protection alone is keeping those populations safe. Southern ground hornbills are also heat sensitive; they start showing heat-dissipation behaviors at temperatures as low as 78°F and typically rest in shaded microsites. Heatwaves are increasing in severity and frequency, and this is impacting their foraging ability and embryo development.

This project will provide insulated artificial nests to encourage breeding by increasing the availability of suitable nest sites and providing hens, developing embryos, and chicks a higher chance of survival during the hottest times of the breeding season. The nest boxes are also likely to provide some protection for the birds and their eggs during veld fires occurring in the area. Nest cameras will be installed at each nest to assess group demographics, nest uptake, potential predator threats, and fledging success.