Kori bustards are among the world's largest birds. Males can weigh as much as 18 kilograms and approach the weight limit for flying.
Native to the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa, biologists are just now beginning to understand the biology and ecology of this large and impressive species of bustard as well as the other 24 species of bustard.
In the wild, bustards and people generally don't mix well and most of the world's bustards are in decline or have disappeared from their former range. Several are faced with extinction.
Before 1988, no zoo in the world had bred kori bustards. Breeding any bustard species was considered difficult. Bustards were thought to be too wary of humans and their shy nature was believed to contribute to the lack of breeding activity. Since 1997, SNZP has been breeding kori bustards consistently and was the fourth zoo in the world to breed the species. Efforts to stimulate breeding at SNZP began in the early 1990s with an improved diet, improved husbandry and a deliberate focus on understanding kori bustard behavior.
Historically, zoos fed kori bustards as carnivores despite observations of wild birds that indicate they are omnivores. In 1991, nutritionists and keepers at the National Zoo improved their diets to incorporate grain-based pellets and chopped greens as well as meat and mice. They also began getting more insects, to reflect what they seem to eat in the wild.
In addition to changing their diet, the National Zoo also made some important changes to the kori bustard flock. In 1990, two wild–caught adult females came to the National Zoo to join the existing group of one male and one female. The extra females were important because in the wild, koris live in groups with one male and multiple females.
The newly-enlarged flock also got a new home. In 1994, they moved to a new, larger enclosure. Their new home had more sunlight and more terrain. Scattered shrubs and grasses allow the birds to hide from one another and visitors. The flock settled in, and in 1997 hatched the first kori bustard chick in the history of the National Zoo.
In 2008, the Zoo celebrated the hatching of its 40th chick, and more chicks continue to be born each year. Nearly all the koris born here have moved to other North American zoos, where many of them have since had chicks of their own. Since breeding began in North America in 1992, the Zoo has hatched more kori bustard chicks than any other facility in the US, thanks to the devoted efforts of Zoo keepers, curators, veterinarians, nutritionists and scientists.