The identification and verification of optimal reintroduction sites for the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri in the Musina area of the Limpopo Province, South Africa
The Southern Ground Hornbill (SGH) (Bucorvus leadbeateri) has recently been listed globally by the IUCN Red list as Endangered or Critically Endangered. In South Africa, the declining population of the SGH has led it to be listed nationally as Vulnerable and falls under the “Protected Species” legislation. Research into the habitat preferences and identification of suitable reintroduction areas have been few since the initiation of reintroduction attempts, therefore resulting in mixed outcomes of previously-reintroduced SGH. The aim of this study was to identify and verify optimal reintroduction sites for the SGH, in the Musina area in the Limpopo Province. Five main objectives were determined, namely: to identify optimal reintroduction areas; to develop a habitat profile of the designated area; to determine the availability of prey items; to determine the availability of large trees needed for nesting and roosting; to evaluate pre-release sites by involving a number of stakeholders. Three study sites were selected on the farm Greyghost Safaris (Ludwigslust), each made up of a different plant community. Sampling was carried out a total of four times during the year: one sampling bout in each season. A niche-based modelling technique was used to describe the suitability of a particular habitat (“ecological space”) then used to project it onto another geographical space. Floristic and faunal surveys were conducted to determine the species composition of prey items and composition and frequency of the herbaceous and woody layer. High-resolution, natural-colour aerial imagery was used in order to determine the availability of trees for nesting and roosting. Pre-release site evaluations and stakeholder engagements were conducted by means of interviews with landowners on and around the study sites. The Limpopo River Valley and across to the KNP on the eastern border of the Limpopo Province, is suitable re-introduction sites for the SGH. This study site provided a good opportunity to explore what an optimal site for reintroduction should resemble.