The zoo has always been one of my favorite places to visit, even as an adult it remains at the top of the list. I especially enjoy going there knowing that new animals have arrived, such as the case with Virginia Zoo’s new pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills.
It looks almost prehistoric doesn’t it?
Rhinoceros hornbills are native to southeastern Asia where they are currently under extreme pressure for survival due to deforestation and poaching (for there feathers). Rhino Hornbills are an indicator species in their range and their absence indicates a poor ecosystem. They eat a variety of fruit and play a vital role as important seed dispersers for Southeast Asian tropical forest ecosystems.
That’s why programs such as AZA’s Species Survival Plan Program (AZA stands for Association of Zoos and Aquariums) work hard with accredited Zoos and other organizations to manage and conserve threatened or endangered species.
These juveniles became part of the Virginia Z0o last November. The goal of the zoo is to establish a breeding pair among the two birds. They are only 3 years old right now and become reproductively mature at the age of around 6 years. In captivity, it’s important to attempt pairing these birds early so they can build their relationship/bond.
Like with most other hornbills, the male has orange or red eyes, and the female has whitish eyes.
One of the other distinctive characteristics of hornbills is the presence of the “casque”, a structure on top of the bill that is unique to hornbills. All hornbills have some type of casque, but few are as impressive as the rhinoceros hornbill. The purpose of the casque is not entirely clear but it is thought to play a role in amplifying sound and used in mating behavior as well.
I found it interesting that Hornbills are the only birds in which the first two neck vertebrae (the axis and atlas) are fused together; this is obviously due to the extra weight from the bill they carry around.
It’s still early, but all indications from the zoo show that they’re getting along well and seem to be happy in their new environment.
This post was submitted to this weeks edition of Bird Photography Weekly (#167). Be sure to stop by and check it out.