28 MAY 2018 - 05:30 LESLEY STONES
If reincarnation is a thing, one of the worst life forms in which to return must be the chick in the second egg laid by a southern ground hornbill. The second hatchling can expect utter neglect from its parents to the point where it dehydrates and dies.
Worse, the mother might eat it. It will only survive if the elder sibling is weak and weedy and is abandoned. Not surprisingly, the large, ungainly and extremely noisy birds are flapping towards extinction.
"There are an estimated 2,000 birds left in SA in 400 to 500 breeding groups and if we don’t do something about it we are going to lose them altogether," says Dr Lucy Kemp, manager of the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project. "With 60% of their land and 50% of the population lost in the last 30 years, it’s probably the swiftest-declining bird species in SA."
The project is based in Mabula Private Game Reserve near Bela-Bela in Limpopo. Since it was founded in 1999 it has been experimenting with hand-rearing abandoned chicks and releasing them into the wild to rebuild the population.
It’s a tricky task. They are rescued from nests before they die and thrive on a diet of chopped-up mice. But their human rescuers can’t teach them how to be birds.