A Once Common Resident

Bold colours, a strong black bill and standing approximately a metre tall, this curious looking bird was once a common sight in most of Zambia. The Southern Ground Hornbill, one of Zambia’s flagship birds, has unfortunately shown a steady decline in numbers over recent years, and, as of 2016, was listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species as “vulnerable”.

On a Zambezi Grande Private Game Experience game drive, this striking bird is an exciting sighting. These are unique and unusual creatures, and not just in their physical appearance either. Your ranger, when encountering a Southern Ground Hornbill, will point out a few of their quirkier behaviours, as well as give you a better insight into why they have been placed on the vulnerable list. Here are a few:

  • Tribal beliefs consider these beautiful birds spiritual and powerful. It’s believed that Southern Ground Hornbills were harbingers of rain, where as some tribes considered them to be bringers of death and bad omens. Thus, interfering or killing them was taboo. Sadly, with the passing of these practices, the birds have lost that protection.

  • They can fly, but spend about 70% of their day on the ground, foraging for food. This makes the Southern Ground Hornbill easy targets for hunters.


  • Ground Hornbills have been documented to live to until 40 – 60 years but are very slow breeders. They produce just one brood of up to two chicks every nine years, and quite often one chick will outcompete the other for food.

  • Before dawn, from the comfort of your Zambezi Grande Private Game Experience room, you may think you hear the distant roaring of lions. But, during mating season from September to December, male Ground Hornbills call together in a chorus that sounds not unlike a lion. They amplify their calls by inflating the red, balloon-like wattle below their bills.

The number of these birds is dwindling, but efforts are being made to help from breeding programs, education and laws being enforced on illegal poaching. One very effective solution is in creating protected areas, such as the Lower Zambezi National Park, a pristine, natural habitat to these singular birds.

Observe a Southern Ground Hornbill, free and wild, in its natural environment on your next Zambezi Grande Private Game Experience.