With 1500 ground hornbills left in South Africa, it’s up to the runts to save their species

Southern ground hornbills don’t lay many eggs. Usually a couple. Sometimes three. The younger hatchlings are known as second and third chicks – a description of parental priority more than order of birth. And in the wild, where survival of the fittest governs life, not having mom’s full attention doesn’t leave the little birds much chance. But to save their species, Lucy Kemp is sticking up for the discarded runts.

Stepping in where the chicks’ mothers fail them, Kemp leads the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project in rescuing the redundant offspring that often die within the first fortnight of their lives. They are then raised in captivity, until it is safe to release them into the wild where they add valuable support to the dwindling population of 1500-odd ground hornbill that are left in South Africa. “I want to stop the ground hornbill from disappearing from our landscapes,” says Kemp.

From being killed for use in traditional rituals to having their nesting trees chopped down, the birds have become endangered because of human interference. Kemp, who has a wealth of experience with conservation projects, is completing her PhD on the odd-looking animals. “It’s only if we keep communicating and creating awareness that people are going to realise how drastic the situation is for the species,” she says. Along with her dedicated team, Kemp is ensuring that the call to change our ways and save the earth’s treasures goes out. There’s no neutral position or passive participation – we are all responsible.