The Ground Hornbill is distributed as far north in Africa as Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya, down the east coast as far south as the Eastern Cape in South Africa and west into Angola and north eastern Namibia (Kemp 1995). Just over 5% of the total Ground Hornbill range falls within South Africa and as a flagship species for the current status of South Africa’s savanna biome, the status of this species is alarming. The savanna ecosystem has always been considered to be relatively stable – but if Ground Hornbills are indicators of the status of this habitat, then southern African savannas may require much closer attention than previously thought.
Ground Hornbills are charismatic birds and are easily identified on sight and sound. However, there are estimated to be less than 1500 Ground Hornbills left in South Africa and the species has experienced a 50% decline in range with more than a 10% decline in numbers over the past three decades. The species has thus been classified as Vulnerable in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Barnes 2000) due to its risk of extinction in the wild.
Due to their complicated social structure and the dramatic decline in habitat and population numbers, in February 2005 the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Ground Hornbill Working Group convened a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment Workshop (PHVA), facilitated by the IUCN’s (World Conservation Union) Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) Southern Africa. This workshop was held at the Southern African Wildlife College near Hoedspruit with the aim of identifying the major threats and conservation priorities for the species and its habitat throughout the sub-region.
The 35 participants at this multi-stakeholder workshop represented the local conservation NGO community, academic institutions, captive breeding facilities, the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group, forestry companies, SANParks, governmental departments, provincial parks boards, private game reserves and traditional healers. Together, the group developed a prioritised action plan for the future of Ground Hornbills in South Africa.