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Hornbill - Unite to save iconic bird species

Hornbill - Unite to save iconic bird species

Ground hornbill
Ground hornbill

United for hornbills – communities, conservationists and tourism operators working together to save iconic bird species.

The Zambezi Traveller looks at a ground-breaking conservation project with community involvement at its heart.

The Mother Africa Trust, based in the Matobo Hills south of Bulawayo, has become a leading player in the conservation of the southern ground hornbill in Zimbabwe with the development of a flagship community conservation project. Supported by the Amalinda Collection, operator of several tourism lodges in the region, the project aims to empower local communities in the conservation of this charismatic species.

The project’s current focus is reaching out to communities in rural areas, especially those with primary, secondary and high schools, across Matobo and Umzingwane Districts. At present 13 schools have confirmed their participation and committed to establishing conservation clubs (or wildlife clubs). A further 12 schools have indicated their interest and are due to be incorporated into the project in due course, and although the project’s resources are limited, it is hoped to have at least 30 schools involved by the end of this year, involving hundreds of pupils aged between 8 and 15.

Paul Hubbard, the project’s manager, is encouraged by the response from local communities; “I have met with the administration of each school as well as local representatives to inform them of the project and get them involved. The response has been overwhelmingly positive!”

Paul continues; “It was decided to operate out of the schools and surrounding homesteads because it was realised that no project aimed at conservation awareness can hope to achieve much without involving the local community in every way possible. Therefore the project has a strong social aspect and also assists schools directly with small but gradual improvements in infrastructure – most notably replacing broken windows, one of the favourite pastimes of territorial male hornbills!” See our special conservation feature Wanted! Have you seen this bird? and The avian art of seduction.

Spending weeks in the field tracking ground hornbills and visiting local communities and schools, Paul is undaunted by the challenge. “I constantly interview people in the area, trying to get a feel for the activities of the birds and where and when they are seen. An advantage of this approach is that it gives me a chance to discuss the birds with local people and share information and create more awareness about the project, and more importantly, highlight the need to protect them. A big difficulty has been the size of the survey area (approximately 3000 sq. km.) and the rugged landscape which makes tracking the birds difficult, especially when they fly over a ridge!”

Paul is also an archaeologist with a passion for cultural history and ground hornbills are also strongly associated with traditional Ndebele beliefs which hold them sacred. As part of the project he asks school children what stories, myths and legends they have you heard about the birds, encouraging them to interview their parents, grandparents and elders. “From discussions in the schools I have learnt the birds are still very much revered and are strongly associated with traditional beliefs about rains and weather prediction. Their booming call mimics the sound of thunder and the fact that they are most visible during the start of the rainy season makes such an association almost inevitable. A contradictory belief is that if the birds enter your homestead, a family member will die, so it must be chased off. Killing the birds is viewed as a shocking occurrence, usually equated with murder.”

Paul has grand plans for the future of the project, which was only established last year, and we hope to feature the project’s work in future issues. He thanks the Mother Africa Trust and The Amalinda Collection for their logistical and funding assistance which has helped him to get the project off the ground to such a flying start, and also Birdlife Zimbabwe for their technical and specialist support.

Zambezi Traveller Diirectory:
Mother Africa Trust

Read more on ground hornbill from the Zambezi Traveller:
The Southern Ground Hornbill
The avian art of seduction
Counting Hornbills
Hornbill - Unite to save iconic bird species

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 09, June 2012)

Read more about the region in our destination guide: