On the Podcast: Dr Kyle & Carrie Middleton on Ground-Hornbill Conservation

Meet a conservation power couple dedicating their work to ground-hornbill conservation in our neighbourhood!

Husband and wife team, Kyle (recently completing his PhD) and Carrie (currently working on her PhD) have been leading the research and conservation of southern ground-hornbills in the Greater Kruger Park for the last seven years as part of a longterm study run by the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology that has spanned the last 23 years.

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They've tracked breeding behaviour, group dynamics, vocalisations, and the impact of changing environmental factors on these endangered "thunderbirds" through mannnnnnny hours of field work followed by even more hours spent recording and reporting their findings. It is a true dedication for science and for the species that so few people even know is threatened.

Carrie, project leader of the APNR Ground-Hornbill Project measuring a newly hatched ground-hornbill egg at the base of its nest in the Greater Kruger to collect critical data before returning it to the nest to be incubated by mama bird.

A maturing ground-hornbill chick being carefully monitored by the APNR Ground-Hornbill Project in the Greater Kruger Park.

A mature southern ground-hornbill in flight. Nicknamed "thunderbird" because of its well known, resonant call heard in the early mornings. Photo by Kevin McDonald.

The combined work of installing artificial ground-hornbill nests by the ⁠APNR Ground-Hornbill Project⁠ and the ⁠Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project⁠ has resulted in an upward trend in the population growth rate of ground-hornbills in the Lowveld, whereas in other places these birds still exist, their status remains severely threatened.

Breeding season (summer) is here! Carrie retrieves the newly laid egg in an artificial nest in the Greater Kruger in order to measure critical data before returning the egg to the nest.
Ground-hornbills typically lay two eggs - the second within a day or two of the first as an "insurance egg". Here, the first laid egg is measured and weighed by Carrie before being returned to the nest.

Kyle and Carrie live in Hoedspruit and are a part of the BHS ecosystem. We've accompanied them in the field, been allowed the unique privilege of peering into an active ground-hornbill nest, observed their careful handling and data capturing of these precious chicks, and had the honour of supporting their passion project (also for conservation), ⁠Nature on Tap⁠.

In this episode of our podcast, you'll hear about some of the WILD stories from their many years walking through the bush, what weird and wonderful discoveries they've made while monitoring these nests, and learn some fascinating truths about these remarkable birds. During the recording of this interview, Kyle helped us remove and measure a 2.8m long black mamba skin from the roof of our lodge (we found the actual snake the next day and it is still said to be living in the roof...) and we got to join an early morning "nest check" the next day.

Recording the interview for the podcast from our base in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, in between nest checks and black mamba sightings!

We're delighted to introduce you to some truly lekker people and know that you'll find their stories entertaining and their expertise something to admire. Definitely find them, follow them, and support them online via the links to the projects included in this post. Send them virtual support this festive season as their breeding birds have them up at 02h00 in order to get to some of the active nests deep in the Greater Kruger as the sun rises. Kyle and Carrie, you guys are legends!

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