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FWF Ranger and the Southern Ground-HornbillsThe Mabula Ground Hornbill Project (MGHP) started as a small project on a reserve in Limpopo and has now grown into an organisation solely dedicated to saving the Southern Ground-Hornbill. This culturally and ecologically iconic species is in dire trouble, mostly because of human behaviour.Human beings have made the world almost impossible for Ground-Hornbills to survive. The poisons and spent lead ammunition left out in the veld have poisoned whole groups at a time. Moreover, when we get rid of big trees, Ground-Hornbills lose their nestling options. As we continue to build into their habitat, they see more enemies on every reflective surface and try to fight the invasion, leading to broken windows and angry homeowners. Climate change is also starting to severely impact how they breed. The MGHP uses science-based tools to slow the decline and ultimately support the recovery of these birds. As the project has grown, the team has needed to work further and further afield. The Ford Wildlife Foundation has taken care of that, and the team now has a fleet of three Rangers that allow them to work safely across four provinces and now into Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. The vehicles have also had to double-up as Ground-Hornbill ambulances, as the team has had to transport several poisoned birds to veterinary care Onderstepoort for treatment before returning the birds to their family groups. The team has developed six key strategies to make sure they are making inroads and constantly strive to improve their operations.
The first is “MONITOR” – in conservation, you need to know what you have before making decisions about where and how to intervene. The team runs a continent-wide citizen science program that uses WhatsApp. This opens the world of citizen science to more people across rural areas, and data comes streaming in from taxi drivers, cattle herders, traditional leaders, school principals and teenagers on their way to school. The next strategy is “RESEARCH.” It is important that we understand our species and what our intervention has on them. As they breed slowly and live long lives, the decisions we take today will only come to fruition in decades to come. The team works closely with multiple research organisations, both locally and abroad, to make the best decisions for the future of Ground-Hornbill.
We need to first protect what we already have, so the next key strategy is “MITIGATE.” We work on every known threat to find solutions to reduce them. For example, for window-breaking, we use perforated vinyl film (Contravision) to cover the windows of rural schools. This cuts the reflection but stills allows the learners inside to get natural light.
Once MGHP has removed and reduced the threats, they work to “RESTORE.” This is done through a reintroduction program and an artificial nest program. MGHP harvest second-hatched chicks from wild nests that would naturally die and rears them at a specialised centre to form new groups for reintroduction. The nests they build are made of artificial materials that will hopefully outlive their builders and provide a safe cradle for the next generation of Ground-Hornbills. Throughout this work runs the thread of “EDUCATION.” Most people are simply unaware of how endangered this species is and what simple changes they need to make for the Savannas and Grassland to be safer. The final strategy is to “IMPROVE,’ and this includes capacity-building of a new generation of African conservationists, especially focusing on women. The project embraces technology, strong collaborations and it builds strong partnerships, like that with the Ford Wildlife Foundation.