Palawan hornbills are one of the least known species of birds and one of the rarest.
. In the natural environment, they mainly occur on the Philippine island of Palawan, and their declining population is estimated at 2,500-10,000 individuals. Three zoological gardens - Wrocław, Pilzno and Athens - undertook conservation breeding of this species six years ago.
So far, only Wrocław has had success, and this is the second brood. The three chicks hatched in April this year, make up almost 50% of the world's population of this species in zoological gardens.
When a year ago the female Palawan hornbill walled up herself in the hollow, using the material provided by her partner, the entire zoo staff held their breath. They had been waiting for five years for that moment. The caregivers made sure that no stranger would go near the aviary for the three months of brooding and raising the chicks.
It was similar this year. When the female again walled up herself, only the keepers known to the birds were allowed near the aviary. Judging by the sounds, two chicks were expected. In May the mother in fact brought two babies out of the hollow. However, to the amazement of the zoo employees, after a week a third chick came out of the nest.
- For almost three months we were beside ourselves. We knew that the female laid eggs, but we did not know how many. The female thoroughly walled up the hollow using the material supplied by the male. As we were not able to look into the nest without stressing the birds, we listened. The first sounds could be heard in April, but we were not sure if it was the female and one young or maybe more. In the end it turned out, that there are three chicks in the hollow - says Krzysztof Kałużny, the bird's keeper at the Wrocław zoo. - The young are thriving and the parents are very caring. It is too early to tell their gender, but we would love females the most, as males await in Athens and Pilzno. Thanks to this success, it will be possible to create new breeding pairs - the keeper adds.
- There are almost no words to describe this experience. Last year, our couple, as the first in the world, not only laid eggs, but also raised a chick. This year it happened again, and this time our joy is triple - says Radosław Ratajszczak, the president of the Wrocław zoo. - Imagine how lucky we are, since there are only four individuals in three zoos in the world. Our three chicks thus constitute almost 50% of the world's population in zoological gardens. Let me remind you, that this species has no chance of surviving in the wild, so zoos are the only chance to preserve it for future generations. Unfortunately, in more and more cases, zoological gardens become conservation centers for survival of many species - adds Ratajszczak.
- Palawan hornbill is a very interesting but little-known species. Breeding it in Wrocław, we must be careful and watch it closely. It also means keeping in touch with the employees of the zoos in Athens and Pilzno, with whom we constantly exchange information about diet or behavior of the birds. The Palawan hornbill is charming, although it is not as colorful as other hornbills. It has black, almost ink feathers, white tail and a horn-like beak. It is an endemic species, inhabiting a limited territory, which includes several Philippine islands, mainly Palawan - says Krzysztof Kałużny.
The Palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei) is a forest bird growing up to approx. 70 cm and reaching a body weight of up to 700 g. It is a species found only on the Philippine island of Palawan and several nearby islands.
The hornbills have a very interesting ritual associated with brooding and raising young. The female literally walls up herself (or gets walled up by the male) in a hollow, and the young leave the nest only when they are almost independent and nearly as big as the parents. The male prepares mortar himself and delivers it to the female. It consists of fruit pulp (such as cherries and blackberries) and mud, and creates a hard cover when it's dried up. In that cover the birds leave a small hole, for the male to feed the female and the chicks for about three months. When the young reach their proper size, the female breaks down the wall and they all leave the nest.
The Palawan hornbill is a species rarely found in nature anymore. The size of its population is estimated at 2,500 to 10,000 individuals, a decrease of 20% has been observed over the last ten years. The main reason for this is the destruction of habitats by deforestation and defragmentation for agricultural development and road construction, as well as poaching and illegal trade.
On the Red List of Threatened Species, the Palawan hornbills were classified as vulnerable to extinction - VU (Vulnerable).
Wrocław's Palawan hornbills live in the Bird House, with access to the aviaries: internal and external. Due to the ongoing renovation of the pavilion, they can now be admired only from the outside. In addition, other birds of this family can be found in the zoo: Wrinkled hornbill (Aceros corrugatus), Black hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus), Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) and African grey hornbill(Tockus nasutus).