2021 “MAKING FRIENDS WITH ANIMALS” Calendar – April Story

Jonah enjoying his “moment in the sun

Hunting for tasty treasure

By necessity, this post is going to have to be a bit different from the usual. For one thing, and this is out of my control, there seems to have been an update to the Gutenberg Editor on WordPress and many things look different to me, including the default font styles. I’m sure I could explore a bit and find a way to return to the “old” format, but I’m creating this post at my usual time: the last day of the month. Life with ADHD: so much fun! But other things will be a departure from the norm, because I have incredibly few photos of Jonah in my collection and only slightly more information or stories than I have photos. I’m guessing this will turn out to be a lot more about hornbills in general than it will about the concave-casqued species specifically. I found this strange when I was preparing to create this post, because I have very likely spent more time on tours in the Indo-Malayan Pavilion at the Toronto Zoo (where Jonah lives) than any other, and when I have a choice, I like to come in the “exit” door so we can see the tigers, gibbons, and Jonah at the beginning of the trip through, because I find there is more to talk about there than at the other end. For whatever reason, however, I’ve simply not taking very many photos of this magnificent bird – which also can be called the great hornbill, great Indian hornbill, or great pied hornbill – through all the many, many times I have visited him in “tourist” mode.

Sweet Aasha

There are several other species of hornbills who call the Toronto Zoo their home, but in my time Volunteering there has only been one other concave-casqued hornbill. Her name was Aasha and she was brought in as a potential mate for Jonah. Unfortunately, many years ago, when they were first put together, the introductions went very badly indeed. Jonah ended up attacking Aasha with his beak, bringing about brain damage and blindness in the poor gal. But the story wasn’t 100% tragic: Aasha lived the rest of her life (she passed away in March of 2019) in the Keeper kitchen in the Indo Pavilion and was doted on, treasured, and adored by all who came to know her. I only “met” her a couple of times. but the most notable for me was in December of 2015, when I was enjoying a “Keeper for a Day” experience that I was splitting between Indo (and my beloved Ashakiran) and the African Savanna (and my penguins). At changeover time, basically lunchtime for my Indo Keeper mentor, we visited the pavilion kitchen and I got to interact with Aasha for my one and only time. I’m using the photo here because it shows you her full-length form, but after this paragraph I’ll post the most special one of all – where I’m skritching her feathers and she falls asleep. Aasha’s most devoted Keeper of the many who were lucky enough to spend time with her was John Armstrong, a remarkable man who began his Keeper career a month or two after the Zoo opened back in 1974, and who introduced me to Ashakiran in the life-altering encounter in December of 2012. As you can imagine, any friend of John’s will automatically be a friend of mine; however, Aasha didn’t require any extra impetus to fall in love with her. She was absolutely the sweetest creature you would ever hope to meet and I consider myself very, very lucky indeed to have spent even the limited time I did with her.

This is the photo I treasure the most:

That feeling when you have put a giant bird to sleep simply by stroking its feathers gently ❤

Here is the Facebook post the Zoo put out when Aasha passed away. It pretty much sums up her life brilliantly, and the photo of John and Aasha it includes is a very famous one among the Staff and Volunteers.

I mean… that’s absolutely priceless. For the record, she had her head on my shoulder briefly as well, but I’m sure it looked nothing like that bond.
One of the few photos I have of Jonah!

Jonah, for his part, is younger than Aasha by a couple of years. His estimated year of birth is 1973; this makes me assume that he was wild-born and came to the Zoo soon after it opened in 1974. Both of them are very long-lived, as their life span in captivity maxes out generally at right around 50 years old; Aasha was 51 when she passed and Jonah is around 48 years old this year. I have neither seen nor heard of any health issues for Jonah to this point, so we might expect him to be around for a fair bit longer at this point. He has a fairly large enclosure across from the touchtable in the Indo Pavilion and it’s not always easy to find him right away – which would seem almost impossible given his enormous size and bright colours. Sometimes he will be front and centre on a perch; sometimes in amongst the foliage looking for bugs or some food that has been hidden for him; you can also often find him on the ground near the front of his exhibit; or he could be very high up near the pavilion roof, surveying his domain and possibly having a long, involved conversation with our male white-handed gibbon, Lenny. He makes a very cool – but loud – raspy sound when he’s calling out; I was certain I had a video of this somewhere but, of course, I cannot find it right now. There is one on YouTube that I will embed here in a bit so you can hear the amazing voice; there are also a couple of Facebook Live videos that were done during this pandemic where you can hear his grunting and chuckling when he’s just calmly chattering to his Keepers, and I will put those on here as well.

Southern ground hornbills

The three other species of hornbill you can find at the Toronto Zoo are the wrinkled hornbill (Henry, who lives close by to Jonah), the southern ground hornbills (who prowl the kudu exhibit in the African Savanna), and the Abyssinian ground hornbills (Henry and Douale, who reside in the Kids’ Zoo portion and whom you can spot in the bird show during the summer). In the photo here at right, the bird without the colour on its neck and wings is a youngster, born earlier in the year that this photo was taken. A family of five (and I believe another was born this winter, but I’m not 100% sure) live together in the Bird and Hoofstock building in the winter, but can be found living it up with a Marabou stork named Zuri and a white-headed vulture named Lloyd in the greater kudu exhibit in the summer, which is located just east of the white rhino exhibit and has two overlooks (three, when the pandemic has subsided once again). It’s a lovely place to hang out in the summer no matter which vantage point you choose, because the kudu as strikingly beautiful, Lloyd is beloved, Zuri is a precocious character, and the hornbills stroll around, thrumming an impossibly deep sound in their throats, jumping on and off of logs and rocks, and generally just having a great time. And, yes: I have a video of them as well that I will post shortly.

I do apologize that I simply do not have a lot of specific and interesting stories about Jonah in my own repertoire; I think the lack of photos might have a lot to do with the fact that he resides exactly between two of my favourite animals in the Zoo: the Sumatran tigers (who you can view through a window opposite Jonah’s exhibit) and the white-handed gibbons. As a result, he doesn’t fare all that well in a competition for my attention whenever I’m in the pavilion with leisure time. Now that I know this fact, I will endeavour to rectify this situation when I’m back at the Zoo. If you follow me on social media, please look for a whole album of Jonah shots in the future! For now, here are the promised Facebook Lives and the various videos of the hornbills taken by myself and other YouTubers. I’ll see you on the other side of them for the sign-off.

Here is the amazing croaking sound he makes that always entertains us when we’re working the nearby table (not my video)

A Facebook Live Keeper Talk with Laura from early in the pandemic (2020)

Sarah and Laura and a training session with the star of the month, Jonah

Another excellent video of Jonah in action posted by a YouTube user (not me)

A wonderful video of Amanda doing a Facebook Live with Henry, the wrinkled horbill

Here, finally, is a video I did take of the southern ground hornbills one evening. Listen to that sound!

There is a terrific podcast with the Lead Keeper of birds, Jon Spero, which you can listen to here on the Zoo’s “Wild for Life” podcast site.

Well, I think I will leave it here for now. If I realize I’ve left something major out – or find the video of Jonah I am sure I have somewhere – I’ll come back and add it and post a note on social media about the addition. For now, though, I just want to say (as always), thank you for checking this post out and I urge you to please come back next month. I guarantee you I won’t run out of stories or photos or anything else to do with this animal. You won’t be disappointed. And check out the ZooLife channel on Twitch for great talks from the Toronto Zoo and others. I am live every Monday at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm EDT as the schedule stands now. (I’m on other times, too, but not as regularly; Monday I do every week.)

Don’t get too fooled today. Hope to see you at the Zoo soon!