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Countering the Extinction Threat of Helmeted Hornbill

Thirty conservation organizations across countries work together to prevent the Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) from being extinct. The collaboration resulted in a conservation action plan for the next decade, which was officially launched on August 29 in Bangkok, Thailand. Six BirdLife International partners participated in this collaboration, namely Burung Indonesia, MNS (Malaysia), BANCA (Myanmar), BCST (Thailand), NSS (Singapore), and HKBWS (Hong Kong).

The Helmeted Hornbill, which is distributed in the forests of Malay Peninsula, Sumatera and Kalimantan, is one of the most endangered hornbill species. In addition to deforestation that displaces their natural habitat, the major threat to this species is illegal trading. Their casques are worth more than $1.000 on black market, even more valuable than an elephant's tusk. Market demand of these casques is high-valued carving products in China. The involvement of illegal trade networks in the hunting and trading of hornbill casques has dropped the threatened status of this species from its previous status of Near Threatened to Critically Endangered in 2015.

Since 1975, Helmeted Hornbill has been included in the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Plants and Animals (CITES) Appendix I, which prohibits this species from being traded internationally. The government also has included this species on the list of protected animals. However, poaching and trading keep continuing massively.

Therefore, this strategic plan was prepared to address the challenges of Helmeted Hornbill conservation in the next decade, including mapping potential trade routes used by illegal trade networks and casque carving production centres.

This strategic plan also seeks to outline the actions to be taken to strengthen habitat protection, law enforcement, and community involvement. At the national level, each member of the Helmeted Hornbill Working Group will support the national task force in combating the illegal trade in Helmeted Hornbill. In Indonesia, Burung Indonesia is directly involved in the preparation of the Strategy and Plan of Conservation Action of the Helmeted Hornbill with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, LIPI, educational institutions, and a number of non-governmental organizations.

Four main strategies were successfully formulated: population and habitat protection; supervision and law enforcement within an integrated legal framework; cooperation with countries that are habitats and destinations for the Helmeted Hornbill trade; and public awareness education.

The Lost Laugh

Out of 13 hornbills in Indonesia, the Helmeted Hornbill is the most unique. Their casques shaped differently and strongest among all—sturdy enough to be used as a tool to push insects out of fragile trees. The males, however, utilize the casque’s strength as a weapon for fighting.

The Helmeted Hornbill is known for their unique and large physical form, which can reach 110-120 cm in length. Another characteristic notable to this species is their loud resonant sound. When perched or flying, their loud, distinctive laugh-like calls can be heard up to a distance of 2 km. Sadly, that laugh is recently getting hard to find in their habitat at the canopies of lowland forests.

Having fruits and grains as their diet, Helmeted Hornbills also known as the forest farmers. They often spread their leftover seeds in forest areas, which someday will become their food source, too. The threat for Helmeted Hornbills, aside from being targeted for poaching, is the loss of habitat and population due to the invasion of oil palm plantations.

Download and read the international plan and strategy document to prevent the extinction of the helmeted hornbill here.