Due to the climatic issue, the yellow-billed hornbill, a close cousin of the bird that inspired Zazu from The Lion King, is facing local extinction.
Between 2008 and 2019, the population of the southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) in its native Kalahari Desert, Southern Africa, steadily declined, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. According to the researchers, its extinction is very certainly connected to rising temperatures across much of its native habitat.
The yellow-billed hornbill is a relative of the red-billed hornbill, which was portrayed by Rowan Atkinson in the 1994 Disney film The Lion King and by John Oliver in the 2019 remake. Birds are also thought to play an important role in the mythology and spirituality of various Southern African tribes.
The species is well-known for its peculiar breeding habits. The socially monogamous southern yellow-billed hornbill prefers long-term relationships with a single individual. The male southern yellow-billed hornbill will stay with his mate and help to defend the nest once they have formed a relationship and mated.
As the temperature continues to rise, this breeding approach is becoming increasingly difficult.
The researchers discovered that the average percentage of occupied nest boxes decreased from 52 percent to 12 percent between the first three seasons of 2008 and 2011 and the last three seasons of 2016 and 2019.
The average number of chicks produced per breeding effort dropped from 1.1 to 0.4, while the number of successful breeding attempts dropped from 58 percent to 17 percent.
According to the experts, this is significantly linked to rising temperatures in the area as a result of climate change. There were no successful breeding efforts when temperatures reached 35.7°C (96.26°F). It was also obvious that failed breeding attempts were proportional to the number of days when air temperatures exceeded a certain threshold.
If this trend continues, southern yellow-billed hornbills will be rare in many parts of Southern Africa by the end of the decade.
In a statement, Dr Nicholas Pattinson, principal author of the study from the University of Cape Town, said, “Much of the public impression of the effects of the climate problem is tied to scenarios projected for 2050 and beyond.” “However, the impacts of the climate problem exist now, and they can materialize not only within our lifetimes, but even within a decade.”
“Despite no large-scale die-offs, we project that southern yellow-billed hornbills will be extirpated from the hottest portions of their range by 2027,” says the study.