Rare helmeted hornbill in forest
International help at hand for the heavily poached helmeted hornbill. Photo: ©Shutterstock

Rescue plan launched to save helmeted hornbill


There is help at hand for a critically endangered and uniquely ‘casqued’ hornbill that inhabits some of Southeast Asia’s tallest and most remote forests.

Under the headline ‘The Missing Crime’, I reported late last year on ‘an environmental atrocity’ and the ‘mass killing’ of helmeted hornbills – so their skull ‘ivory’ could be carved as status symbols for the Chinese nouveau riche.

It was a tragic tale implicating criminal gangs and leaky border control in a sickening business running parallel with the illegal trade in the body parts of endangered animals.

The bizarre-looking living dinosaur that is the helmeted hornbill is about 1.5 m long (including its tail feathers), with a massive head that includes a red ‘helmet’ or casque above its yellow beak. It’s loud call sounds like maniacal, cackling laughter.

A bit like the big-horn sheep, it uses its unique cranial armour in ferocious bouts of aerial head-butting – usually over feeding territory.

View up trunk of huge jungle tree
Helmeted hornbills hang out in SEA’s tallest and most remote forests. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

6000 killed in one state

The number of helmeted hornbills being poached in Southeast Asia is unknown, but a 2013 investigation in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan estimated at least 6000 had been killed in that state alone. (The modern trade appears not to have existed before 2012.)

BirdLife International (BI) reports that poachers enlisted by the gangs tend to kill all the large hornbills in an affected area, of which there may be several other species, so that they don’t miss the valuable helmeted.

“This new threat means that, if things carry on as they are … the big fighting bird of the giant forests will be reduced to a few carved skulls lurking in a study,” the organisation says.

Better news

There is better news, including the recent discovery of a previously unknown population of the birds – somewhere in the SEA jungle.

A huge 10-year conservation strategy and action plan for the helmeted hornbill’s survival was also launched in mid-2018. More than 30 international conservation organisations are behind the multi-pronged, multi-national rescue plan, which includes:

  • eliminating the trade in helmeted hornbills. (NGOs will map trade routes, lobby for stronger local trade penalties and cross-border law enforcement.)
  • long-term monitoring of the remaining population and protection of the habitat
  • sharing information so current populations can be maintained, and those that have been damaged can recover.

©Natural Images 2018


©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.


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