The Horned guan (Oreophasis derbianus) is probably one of the most peculiar birds of the world. It is the only survivor of a very ancient lineage of the order Craciformes, and the only member in the monotypic genus Oreophasis. It is unmistakable with its black and white plumage and its unique red horn of bare skin on top of its head. Sexes are alike, but immatures can be identified by their smaller horns that keep growing for the first four years.
The Horned guan is only found in Chiapas State, in southeast Mexico and southwest Guatemala, where it inhabits the cloud forest at elevations between 4,000 and 6,200 feet. It is a specialized frugivore, consuming the leaves and fruits of more than 55 species of plants. They are polygamous and a male can mate with several females. Both members of the pair collaborate to make a nest high on a tree branch, a simple depression on the epiphyte vegetation. Females lay two eggs and incubate by themselves for 34 days, after which the chicks will follow her around the forest.
It is considered Endangered by BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is of Immediate Conservation Priority by the IUCN Cracid Specialist Group. Habitat alteration, hunting and illegal trade have been identified as the most important threats, with global population estimated between 1,000 – 2,500 individuals. It has always been a very scarce species in captivity, with only 115 birds currently kept in 12 zoological institutions of six countries. Reproduction has only been achieved in six institutions, all in Mexico.
The Dallas World Aquarium acquired two pairs in March 2009 from a well-known breeder in Mexico. After quarantine, they were placed in off-exhibit breeding aviaries, where they are constantly monitored through surveillance cameras. The DWA is committed to generate new information that will help understand the biology of the species and improve their captive husbandry. As part of this effort, currently there is a research project undergoing to determine the normal blood values of the species, and another one on the natural incubation parameters.
By March 2010, both pairs have already shown an interest in breeding, so hopes are high that the DWA will soon be successful in breeding these remarkable birds.