KUCHING, Sept 1 ― The helmeted hornbill, one of eight hornbill species that can be found in Sarawak, is now critically endangered due to years of poaching, warned local zoologist Jason Teo.
Teo, a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak graduate and member of Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Kuching branch, said the critically-endangered species is the largest hornbill not just in Sarawak but also Borneo, and is at risk of going extinct.
Describing the helmeted hornbill as a “very special bird”, he said bird watchers have dubbed it ‘the phoenix’ due to its large size ― about 120cm or four feet in length, roughly the size of a child.
“(Despite its size) It can still fly and it has a very beautiful long tail, just like the phoenix,” he said in a video uploaded on YouTube recently.
The video was made with the hope of raising awareness among the local community on the perilous state of the helmeted hornbill.
According to Teo, the helmeted hornbill is the only hornbill species in the world with a solid casque.
“It is a little bit sad that this helmeted hornbill may go extinct soon, as it is now critically endangered. It is one stage away from being extinct, because there are no more helmeted hornbills in the wild,” he added.
In calling on the people to play a part in preventing the extinction of the helmeted hornbill, Teo said the public can serve as the eyes and ears of the authorities in bringing an end to the hunting and selling of the hornbill’s casque.
“Alert the authorities if you come across any poaching or trading of helmeted hornbills. Poachers and smugglers are smart, so the authorities need to have eyes and ears everywhere. Things will change only if we play our part.”
He said increased public awareness can help save the helmeted hornbill similar to how the giant panda ― once one of the world’s critically-endangered species ― was rescued.
“The giant panda is a miracle. People started becoming aware and then a lot of money and effort were put into conservation and research.
“It was a conservation miracle,” he said, adding that he hoped more people would become aware of the issue so that future generations would have the chance to see a real helmeted hornbill rather than seeing one on television or in books.
Teo said those wanting to report poaching or trading of helmeted hornbills can contact Sarawak Forestry Corporation’s offices in Kuching (019-8859996), Sibu (019-8883561), Bintulu (019-8332737), or Miri (019-8290994); the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (1-800-88-5151); or Sabah Wildlife Department (012-8019289).
According to BirdLife International’s website, the helmeted hornbill is one of the most unusual hornbills given its solid casque.
In the last nine years, the species has come under unprecedented pressure from an exploding demand for casques as a material for carved jewelry and ornaments.
The non-governmental organisation said a helmeted hornbill casque could fetch around US$1,000 in the black market, adding that at least 2,878 casques were seized globally between 2010 and 2017.
It said due to the decimation of the species in Indonesia as a result of poaching, helmeted hornbills are now being hunted for in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand which has caused a rapid decline in its numbers.
In May 2017, BirdLife along with Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership co-organised a helmeted hornbill conservation planning workshop at Kubah National Park here.
The recommendations from the workshop formed the basis for developing the Range-wide Helmeted Hornbill Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2018-2027) which was recently adopted by a host of organisations.
The 10-year plan focuses on eliminating demand for helmeted hornbill products across all consumer communities or countries; effective enforcement of national and international policies and legislation to ensure that the CITES Appendix I listing for the species is effectively implemented; banning all commercial trade including domestic trade; and empowering local communities to protect and conserve their resident helmeted hornbill populations. ― Borneo Post