In 1972, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park received the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Edward H. Bean Award for producing the first Abyssinian ground hornbill chick in a zoo. This pair lived to be more than 50 years old and produced 50 chicks!
Today, the Safari Park has 15 hornbill species, including 2 eastern yellow-billed hornbills, named Trouble and Bruiser, who are part of the Frequent Flyers bird show. The San Diego Zoo has 10 hornbill species, including a southern ground hornbill that serves as an animal ambassador, meeting Zoo guests up close and going out on television appearances.
Despite their quirky and comical nature, hornbills are in trouble. Habitat destruction and hunting are the biggest threats to hornbills, and it is believed that there are only 120 pairs of Visayan wrinkled hornbills Aceros waldeni and fewer than 20 pairs of Sulu hornbills Anthracoceros montari. The Sulu hornbill's tiny population is limited to one island in the Philippines (Tawitawi), and military activity makes conservation difficult. Other threats for hornbills include introduced species such as feral goats, which are preventing forest regeneration by eating new growth.
Some hornbill species are in danger of becoming target practice for hunters or being captured for the exotic pet trade. Many hornbills are killed for their casque, used for carvings and traditional medicines. In Sarawak, Malaysia, local people hunted hornbills for the feathers, which are used for headdresses and ceremonies. Then the Wildlife Conservation Society came up with a plan: it asked ceremonial leaders and dancers if they'd be willing to use donated feathers so they wouldn't have to kill so many native hornbills. The leaders said yes! Now, zoos with hornbill collections, including San Diego Zoo Global, gather their hornbills' shed feathers for regular shipments to Sarawak.
San Diego Zoo Global has the most comprehensive collection of hornbills in the United States at nearly 30 species. We have hatched more than 520 hornbill chicks, which is among the highest number of hornbill hatchings in the world. Hornbills are symbols of luck, purity, and fidelity in many cultures, and this may help the hornbill's human neighbors join in the fight to conserve these fabulous birds.