The southern ground hornbill is the largest species of hornbill bird and can be found naturally across the savannas of Africa. These birds are listed as vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List, but studies done in South Africa suggest they could be in much worse trouble than scientists previously thought. Their habitat is being cleared for farmland and these birds are dying off.
“These guys have not produced any babies for us yet,” says keeper Jocelyn Womack one day recently during my press tour. “But we’ve got a couple of nest boxes set up for them out here.”
The two hornbills live in a large area with a flowing river water-feature running through. They share the space with several other species of animals also found in Africa, like the greater Kudu, a large antelope, two secretary birds, which are large and impressive birds of prey, and even some gazelle called gerenuk, which are known for walking on their back legs to reach leaves.
“I think what’s most enriching for them is having this big space to be able to roam around and do stuff in,”Womack said as the male hornbill shared a patch of grass with a gazelle.
As Womack points out a large bird house on stilts, she discusses how the hornbills enjoy jumping inside and on top of the nest box pounding on it with their bills and making music.
“They do a lot of vocalizations and calls out here. They are able to exhibit more natural behaviors out here than they would in a lot of other places,” she said.
Providing habitats as close to the animals natural space is part of what makes the Dallas Zoo such an educational place for children and adults alike.