Hornbills: Symbols of the African savannah

The 54 species of the hornbill family can be found in Asia and Africa. The largest one is the Southern ground hornbill, native to Southern Africa. Learn more


The 54 bird species of the hornbill family can be found scattered throughout Asia, India and Southern Africa. The largest of these bird species is the Southern Ground Hornbill which is native to Southern Africa. The Southern Ground Hornbill is one of the most easily identifiable bird species in the world due to its red-coloured neck and eyes, which clearly stand out from the black plumage.

The bird lives in groups of two to twelve animals, which inhabit a large, strictly guarded area of up to 100 km². The upbringing of the young birds is not only taken over by the parents but by the entire group. The birds can become more than 50 years old. Their booming calls are often confused with those of lions. Their diet involved various insects, frogs, lizards but also small mammals, such as squirrels. The Southern Ground Hornbill lives in Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe National Park and, since recently, in Marakele National Park. It is one of the endangered bird species and is rarely seen outside nature reserves. It is suspected that the Southern Ground Hornbill will soon be included in the Red List of Endangered Species.


In order to ensure the survival of this fascinating bird species, concrete conservation measures must be taken. One of the main problems is the loss of natural habitats, especially breeding sites and food sources. Due to the exploitation of the wood resources of Africa and the increasing development of the savannah by humans, the trees relevant for the nest-building of the hornbills are destroyed more and more. Another problem is the direct or indirect poisoning of the animals.

As part of various campaigns to combat rabies, many poison traps have been set up in the country and more and more hornbills are falling victim to them. Moreover, the birds are also endangered through direct prosecution. Especially in the areas populated by humans, they are scared away or even shot because of their territorial, aggressive behaviour. In addition, the body parts of the animals are often used for traditional rituals, so that the birds are specifically hunted for this purpose. Furthermore, they are endangered by overhead power lines and bird trade. The low reproduction rate of the hornbill contributes to the critical situation, so that adequate protective measures are needed.

SANParks is also committed to the protection of this species and asks for help in the sighting of these animals. For comprehensive monitoring, the date, time, location, number and constitution of the bird should be reported to the SANPark Administration.

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