Three southern ground hornbill chicks hatched at Moscow Zoo

May 20

Three southern ground hornbill chicks hatched at the Moscow Zoo. Chicks were born few days apart to a couple of adult birds that have been living at the Zoo for more than 20 years. This is the first case of such a large number of offspring in the history of all Russian and European practice of these birds’ captive breeding.

Southern ground hornbills kept at zoos usually bring one chick in year at best, and in the wild, these birds have offspring every ten years.

Southern ground hornbills are listed in the (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as a vulnerable species, since there are too few of them left. According to scientists, this species is may disappear in its natural habitat in the next 10-15 years. Creating reserve populations in modern zoos is the only way to prevent extinction of these unique birds.

"Over the past few years, our experts have managed to create the best conditions for these rare birds’ maintenance and successful breeding. Three chicks at once is undoubtedly the merit of ornithologists, who have been constantly monitoring their parents-to-be, and as soon as they noticed female bird's anxious behaviour, they took her eggs away and put them in a special incubator to prevent them from breaking that is quite common among southern ground hornbills, which are considered to be very active and restless birds," said Svetlana Akulova, Director General of the Moscow Zoo.

Presently, the Zoo has seven southern ground hornbills: a breeding couple, two teenager birds born in 2017 and 2018, and three newborn chicks. You may watch adult birds in the old part of the Zoo.

Adult hornbills live in an open-air cage located to the right of the entrance to the House of Birds. Grown chicks have been moved to a separate area, next to the African crowned cranes. Birds are active all day long. Since they have been raised by people, they are not afraid of visitors and do not mind them watching and taking pictures.

As for the newborns, they are still kept in the interior rooms, hand-fed by ornithologists. Their diet includes insects, raw meat and special mineral supplements.

According to Svetlana Akulova, the baby hornbills are healthy and happy. The senior one is 3 kg, while younger birds are 1.3 and 1.05 kg.

Southern ground hornbills grow quickly enough. In a month, they will be 6 kg and start active exploration of the world and learning to fly and will be transferred to an open air cage. In the near future, Zoo employees are to conduct a special training for grown chicks.

"This species possesses well developed cognitive abilities, so they should be given as many different tasks as possible. These birds are considered one of the most intelligent and quick-witted ones. They look for different objects around the cage and show them to each other. For example, as soon as one of them discovers a bright stone, it brings it to the other bird and demonstrates it proudly. Ground hornbills also like sharing their food," Svetlana Akulova added.

Southern ground hornbills are the largest representatives of the hornbill family. They owe their name to a large horned beak. Adult hornbill female weighs up to 4 kg, male birds weigh up to 6 kg. The birds can be up to 120 cm long.

Hornbills live in Africa, to south of the equator, in southern Kenya, Angola, Northern Namibia and Botswana. For local tribes, they are sacred birds. Africans believe that the birds predict the onset of the rainy season. Hornbills make a loud cry, similar to a lion's roar, anticipating the change of weather. It can be heard at a distance of up to 5 km.

Southern ground hornbills boast outstanding and eye-catching looks with their red skin around the eyes and on the neck front against black feathers. Their strong bills may easily hold a prey weighing more than 3 kg.

In the wild, these birds prefer to settle in forests and savannahs, where they live in small groups with each group having its own territory carefully protected from rivals. Hornbills spend most of their time on the ground looking for grasshoppers, beetles, scorpions, termites, frogs, lizards, snakes (even poisonous ones), turtles and small rodents being their common food.

In 2019, Moscow Zoo celebrates its 155th anniversary. Throughout the year, its territory will host themed concerts, performances, quests, workshops and tours. Until the end of spring, the original Pallas’s cat bas-relief will be put back on the Zoo’s main entrance. A rare wild cat will be a symbol of the Moscow Zoo once again. The Zoo anthem's creation was also timed to the festive date.


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