Workers in Vadodara’s Kamatibaug zoo are these days busy catching live lizards! Not for fun though, but to fulfil the natural “protein needs” of a nesting Great Hornbill.
The zoo staff are only following the instructions of their superiors, who have asked them to feed the hornbill live lizards, which the birds eat in their natural habitat. Zoo authorities want to make sure the bird does not miss out on its natural diet during this rare pregnancy, which is reportedly taking place after almost a decade.
According to the authorities, the hornbill has produced off-springs only on five occasions at this zoo since 1998, the last being in 2004. This time, the zoo authorities want to ensure that the offsprings are healthy.
Zoo in-charge and curator C B Patel said, “It is not common for hornbills to produce healthy off-springs. We have had only about five successful nesting periods for the birds since 1998. So, it is significant that the bird is nesting. We have instructed the staff to catch lizards and throw it in. If it were in its natural habitat, its mate would have looked for the lizards, as per their natural order.”
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He added that although zoo authorities can not step inside the cage to check on the eggs, as hornbills seal their nests during incubation, there is indication that the female hornbill has isolated itself in the nest for incubation. Accordingly, zoo staff is busy catching lizards from within the premises to throw it in for the hornbill in its cage.
During the nesting period, it is the male hornbill that feeds the female through a small gash in the nest where she incubates the eggs. Zoo staff say they have fixed the time for feeding to habituate the male hornbill to receive the caught “live lizards”.
A staff member said, “We provide the hornbill the lizard feed around 4 pm everyday. So it has now become used to the process. Since it is captive, the authorities have told us that it needs essential energy source in way of live insects during the nesting period.”
The Great Hornbill or Buceros bicornis is a bird that lives in monogamous pairs. During breeding season, the female hornbill puts together a nest and seals the opening with a coat of its excreta. While the female locks itself inside the nest during the entire period of breeding, the male dutifully takes the food to the female. The female hornbill, zoo authorities say, will remain isolated inside its nest until its off-springs are slightly grown. The female loses all its feather during this period of breeding. The chicks take about five years to completely mature with the typical hornbill casque.
So far, the survival rate of the chickens has been low, the zoo workers said. The hornbill has been listed as a near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, in many parts of the world. In captivity, the bird lives for about 55 years.