Global Warming Threatens South Africa’s Yellow-Billed Hornbill

According to a study led by the University of Cape Town, a sustainable increase in global temperatures could make the southern yellow-billed hornbill disappear from some parts of South Africa’s Kalahari Desert by 2027.

The bird is best known for its unusual breeding and nesting habits where the female seals herself in a hole and stays there for about 50 days to nurture and care for the chicks. The creature is closely related to the red-billed Hornbill, based on which the Jaju character was created in the movie “The Lion King”.

Southern yellow-billed hornbills fight for breeding above certain temperatures because they are more difficult to graze and lose weight. A comparison of two three-year periods between 2008 and 2011 and 2016 and 2019 shows that the number of nest boxes occupied at a site in South Africa’s Kuruman Reserve has dropped from 52% to 12%, the researchers said. The average number of pups per breeding effort has dropped from 1.1 to 0.4.

The region’s temperature data already show no significant change for the region since the summer of 1996 and 1997, back in 1960, said Nicholas Pattinson, author of the study and a researcher at UCT. According to the paper, the average maximum daily temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius every decade since then.

“There is growing evidence for the negative effects of high temperatures on the behavior, physiology, reproduction and survival of various bird, mammal and reptile species worldwide,” Pattinson said. “South yellow-billed horn bells may be extinct from the warmest parts of their range by 2027.”

The study, one of the first to study the effects of rising temperatures on reproductive success for a species over a long period of time, shows that global warming further increases the risk of extinction and reduces biodiversity. With a daily maximum temperature of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.3 Fahrenheit), there was no successful breeding effort in Hornbill. Based on current global warming trends, the birds will exceed this temperature for the entire breeding season by 2027, researchers say.

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