Ground Hornbill with Beetle in Mouth - Headshot

Community Conservation


South African culture is steeped in stories of community conservation – but this one is rather special. Southern Ground-Hornbill, numbers are declining as human impact mounts. South African conservationist, Lucy Kemp,  has received a prestigious Whitley Award worth £40,000 for her work with communities and landowners, aligning traditional beliefs with new conservation action that will protect the bird and its habitat. Saving the Southern Ground-hornbill!

To read the full story with videos 👉 2021 Whitley Award Winners

The Whitley Awards are presented annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based charity the Whitley Fund for Nature and community conservation. Lucy is one of six conservationists to be recognised in 2021 for their commitment to conserving some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular natural habitats. During a virtual celebration (12th May), they received messages of support from charity Patron HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.

Sir David Attenborough said: “Whitley Award winners are local environmental heroes, harnessing the best available science, engaging the community and leading projects with passion. I admire their courage, their commitment, and their ability to affect change. There are few jobs more important.”

Headshot of Lucy Kemp Whitley Award Winner 2021

Award Winner: Lucy Kemp

Africa’s Thunderbird

The Southern Ground-hornbill is a long-lived and large- bodied bird, valued culturally as the “bringer of rain”. Now Endangered in southern Africa, they have disappeared from 70% of their historical range. Cultural protection has kept some populations safe, however downward trends continue – mostly on commercial farmland and communal grazing areas where western influence trumps traditional beliefs.

Location Location Location

Nest availability is a major factor in breeding success. The Southern Ground-hornbill is a territorial creature that needs its own space. If ideal nest sites are scarce, it will choose a sub-optimal site rather than leave its territory, which increases vulnerability to predation or flooding and limits chick survival. Lucy and her colleagues at the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project seek to halt the species’ decline and build local pride – a community conservation approach.

Group of African School Children wearing Ground Hornbill Masks

Community Custodianship

Lucy will install artificial nests to improve breeding chances, considering nest height, hollow size, and cavity wall thickness to create the optimal micro-climate. She will engage landowners in a custodianship programme and provide training to monitor and protect hornbill nests. Lucy and her team will also document traditional beliefs, aligning cultural values with associated conservation measures. This will be incorporated into national conservation plans, strengthening capacity to preserve this great bird.



The Whitley Fund for Nature “WFN”  is a fundraising and grant-giving nature conservation charity offering recognition, training and grants to support the work of proven grassroots conservation leaders across the Global South. For more on WFN 👉 

This article was originally published as a post on the Whitley Award website.


Congratulations to the conservation team at Mabula Game Reserve


If you would like to know more about visiting this conservation project – please contact us at Alexandra’s Africa 👉 ALEXANDRA’S AFRICA CONTACT

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