It takes a unique human to raise an endangered Ground Hornbill chick from two days old until it is released back into the wild.
Many had tried, and as many had failed. And then along came Delicia Gunn.
This unpretentious conservationist from Loskop Dam, South Africa, has successfully raised more southern Ground Hornbill chicks than anyone else in the world.
Ground Hornbills are threatened throughout their range, where they are being pushed out by increasing human populations.
These ponderous, slow moving birds don’t really stand a chance if humans don’t support their right to share the world with us. The birds forage by walking slowly though the bush, finding lizards, insects, and snakes. This is usually done in family groups, where the young, usually only one chick, learns the ways of life from his or her parents for about six years, before setting off on its own.
Having one chick, usually only every three years or so, does not increase the Ground Hornbills’ chances of surviving, either. Yet there is a reason for this. The chick needs to learn the ways of foraging and fending for itself in the wilds of the African bush. From two caring, dedicated parents. This takes time, and builds experience. Two things that are eroding the numbers of this species yearly.This, and so-called ‘muthi’, or traditional medicine killings, are also diminishing the
families of Ground Hornbills in the wild, as well as poisonings and encroaching on their habitat by human populations.
And the story behind ‘The Bringers of Thunder’?
The hooting and booming call of the Ground Hornbills (also called ‘Thunder Birds’ )which can often be heard for some miles, is believed to be a sign of imminent rains coming to the area, and the birds have been revered and protected by African communities because of this. Many believed that on hearing the birds’ morning call, they should prepare their fields. Others fear the birds bring death, or will cause death to those who kill it. This was so until recently, when it seems, the old beliefs have been forgotten or ignored and the Thunder Birds are being killed.
Ground breaking work is being done to build new populations, and is led in South Africa by Dr. Lucy Kemp and her team, on the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project.
Delicia has been an integral part of this team for many years.
The team starts by ‘stealing’ the second chick from a Ground Hornbill nest.The second egg is a backup in case the first one fails, but if the first one succeeds, the second chick is left undernourished and its chances of survival are minimal.
The weaker chick is then nurtured and reared from day two. After then initial phase, it is palced with a ‘foster’ family’ of adults, where the chick can learn how to be a Ground Hornbill, in a relatively natural environment. The it may be successfully bonded and released to wild parents, and eventually grow to maturity and start its own family in a new wild home
Lucy and her team are succeeding, and working closely with partners who have suitable protected wild habitat for the birds. gives the Thunder Birds a further head start. They are aiming to rear and release up to 15 Thunder Birds a year, and are on track towards reaching this target in the near future.
Hopefully you and I will soon hear that booming call again, early one African morning.
If you’d like to watch our film on The Bringers of Thunder’ and hear their call, our half hour film on them is available to buy or rent on https://vimeo.com/ondemand/capegriffons/