The good luck/bad luck bird

I posted this photograph to my Facebook wall yesterday to see if any of my Malaysian friends could identify the bird. I took the photograph last December in the restaurant at the bird park in Kuala Lumpur (where it had landed next to my table and was watching me eat) so I had assumed that it was a bird from the Borneo rainforest, given its striking colours.

However, I was wrong. Turns out it is an African ground hornbill (thanks for identifying it, Angie). When I looked it up on the Internet, I discovered quite a few interesting facts about this bird. Apparently female birds lay two eggs, but they only raise one chick, leaving the other to die within a few days.

According to some information posted by the Honolulu Zoo (which has two of the birds) the African ground hornbill is classified as ‘vulnerable’ in South Africa now (which is the next classification down from ‘endangered’) because they can now only be found in reserves (with about 700 birds in the Kruger National Park). The zoo’s website states:

“In South Africa there has been a large decline in their numbers for a number of reasons. They are popular to use as ‘muti’ or tribal medicine among some of the indigenous people of South Africa. The brain of a ground hornbill, if kept in a village, is reputed to bring the village luck. Irate homeowners kill them because they will attack windows, breaking them, if they encounter their reflections. They are also vulnerable to picking up poison baits that are set out for predators. Currently there is a conservation project underway in South Africa, in which the second chick from a nest is taken before it dies and raised and released to help increase their numbers.”

That’s good news that efforts are being made to help prevent these birds from becoming an endangered species.

Some other facts on the website that I found interesting related to the local folklore surrounding the African ground hornbill. The Masai believe that the bird should never be killed because it will bring bad luck, but if one lands on the roof of a house, the occupants must move immediately or they believe death will ensue.

Seems this bird has a split personality in African folklore. In some circumstances it brings good luck, on other occasions it brings bad luck.

I am pleased to report that death did not ensue after it landed next to my table at the Kuala Lumpur bird park!

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