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An endangered southern ground hornbill flew the coop at the Joburg Zoo, but was recaptured after seven hours on the run.
TEAMWORK by staff from the Johannesburg Zoo and the Mabula Conservation Project led to the successful recapturing of a southern ground hornbill that escaped from its sky kennel on 13 April.


Mike Jordan holds the escaped female Ground Hornbill securely  Mike Jordan holds the escaped female Ground Hornbill securelyThe female bird escaped when the family was being moved for renovations scheduled for the birds’ enclosure. It was caught on the same day.

The southern ground hornbill pair at the zoo are part of the Mabula Ground Hornbill Conservation Project, based at the Mabula Game Reserve near Bela Bela in Limpopo. The programme breeds these endangered birds in captivity and in natural surroundings. The zoo is raising four chicks for the programme.

Southern ground hornbills are considered “globally vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and their numbers continue to decline.

One of the zoo’s chicks had already been successfully introduced to the adult pair, and the remaining three would soon be introduced, noted Candice Segal, the acting brand and communications manager at the Joburg Zoo.

“Yesterday, the bird section curator, Lara Jordan, planned to bring in additional roosting boxes and enrichment into the enclosure before the introduction of the new hornbill family. All the birds have been living in close quarters to each other with the chicks in a smaller cordoned-off section next to the adults’ larger aviary.

“The escape occurred when the birds were being moved to another area. The female broke free of her sky kennel and flew into the nearest tree in the mountain goat enclosure,” she explained.

“Initially, staff tried to lure the female by placing her mate, who was secured in the kennel below, but unfortunately due to the stressful situation she took flight, which is the natural behaviour for this species.”

Staff from different animal sections at the zoo joined the rescue efforts; Jordan briefed them on possible scenarios and rescue plans. In addition, people trained in ground hornbill capture from the Mabula Conservation Project were called to help.

Seven hours after the bird’s escape, the ground hornbill came down from the trees and was caught by a visiting expert in animal capture, Mike Jordan. He was hiding behind a tree calling to the bird using ground hornbill vocalization. When the bird came close enough, he grabbed it, securing its beak and wings.

The Joburg Zoo will be having a Save the Ground Hornbill fundraising walk/run on Sunday, 1 May. Tickets are R40 and the event starts at 7am. For more information, check the Joburg Zoo website.

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