We are back at Kirkleatham Owl Centre, giving you a behind the scenes tour. Read about the birds, watch their progress in training, and get up close and personal with other residents, including the meerkat and porcupine families. This week, we meet one of the centre’s most popular residents, Cruella

She is one of our most popular residents – a prehistoric looking creature, scary looking really, with a name to match – Cruella.

Cruella is an Abyssinian ground hornbill and, despite her name and her looks, she is one of the nicest birds you will meet, and she’s hugely popular with our visitors.
There are two types of ground hornbill (which are the largest members of the hornbill family) the southern hemisphere – in southern Africa, and the Abyssinian, which is found in the grasslands below the Sahara, from Gambia in the west to Uganda in the east.

The Northern Echo: Cruella, with a gift in her beakCruella, with a gift in her beak

Nineteen-year-old Cruella was born at Paignton Zoo in Devon and came to live here at the owl centre 12 years ago, and from the moment she arrived our visitors were fascinated by her.

Her personality can, at times, match her looks and name. She’s a tough lady. With staff she likes she’s lovely, with others she won’t even let them in her aviary, but she loves all of our visitors.

Hornbills are so named because of that impressive beak, complete with “horn” on top. The horn is actually called a casque and is used in display.
We always get asked, “is the casque broken?” No, is the answer, it is meant to look like that.

The other question we always get asked is about Cruella’s eyelashes – she has the type of eyelashes a supermodel would be proud of. They actually have a purpose and that is to shield their eyes from dust and sand as hornbills wander their grassland home.

The Northern Echo: Cruella’s amazing eyelashes have the Max FactorCruella’s amazing eyelashes have the Max Factor

Cruella may be loved by our visitors, but when it comes to male hornbills she has not been quite so lucky, and she has had three husbands. Two of them just didn’t work – Cruella is hand-reared and very humanised and, as a result, she sometimes struggles to understand hornbill behaviour.

Things appeared to be going better with her third husband and she really liked him, but sadly he died of a heart attack.

The Northern Echo: An alternative viewAn alternative view

Cruella is part of an international studbook – a breeding programme for the species – and we have just had another male hornbill assigned as a potential mate for her – a young male from a zoo in France.

We are hoping after being twice divorced and once widowed it will be fourth time lucky for Cruella.