Reintroduction to, or reinforcement of, threatened wild populations are commonly used conservation strategies. Reintroductions of the Southern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri have been tested as a potential conservation tool for this vulnerable species since 1995. Forty-two individuals have been reintroduced under varying management strategies. We analysed the outcomes of these attempts to assess which factors contributed most to success or failure. The species exhibits complex social learning and hierarchy, and is long-lived, with delayed sexual maturity. Immediate survival was significantly affected by the season in which the release was done and by the quality of the released birds. The best-quality release birds were reared with wild behavioural characteristics and were well-socialised to captive conspecifics prior to being placed into managed groups ('bush schools'), where social learning was led by an experienced, wild alpha male. Once reintroduced birds had survived their first year after release, continued wild experience and wild mentorship significantly affected their survival. Since sample sizes limited the rigour of some statistical analyses, other factors were considered that may also determine success. These quasi-experimental reintroductions revealed novel threats to the species, such as the importance of a nest to group cohesion, that harvested second-hatched chicks provide viable release birds, which essentially doubles wild productivity, and that reintroductions generate valuable civil society awareness of the plight of the species.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work is based on the pioneering studies of Alan and Meg Kemp, parents of the lead author. Kim Labuschagne and Thoko Rapinga assisted with permits. Angela Ferguson provided statistical analysis support. This research was funded by the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG), then under the management of the National Research Foundation and now the South African National Biodiversity Institute, as part of the Professional Development Programme of the National Research Foundation and National Department of Science and Technology (Grant number IUD80356). Further support was from the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, chiefly funded by SASOL Ltd., Mabula Private Game Reserve, Disney Conservation Fund, Seaworld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Rufford Grants and San Diego Zoo Global.
© 2020 The Author(s).