Protection for Helmeted Hornbills

Conservationists celebrate success of advocacy efforts

What a great day for conservationists and advocates of the Helmeted Hornbill in Thailand!

This particular species of hornbill can only be found on the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand and Myanmar, and was listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2015, moving up from “Near Threatened”. Not only do they have a low reproduction rate – they breed only once a year and produce only one chick – their habitats in the south of Thailand are also under threat due to forest degradation. More significantly, they are prized by poachers for their casques, or “helmets”, which can fetch a high price on the black market to be carved into jewellery and ornaments, as well as talismans, and is often referred to as red ivory. The species does not thrive in captivity, and has therefore never been successfully bred.

The Helmeted Hornbill is believed to have been roaming the skies for 45 million years. The solid casques are weapons used to fight each other in aerial territorial battles. Their call is loud and raucous, ranging from honks to what has been described as “maniacal laughter”. This makes is easy for poachers to seek them out and pull the chicks, and mothers, out of the nest. 

The Thailand Hornbill Research Foundation said that in 1994, a survey found 22 nests which are usually in natural tree cavities, but in 2020, only three active nests were left in the areas surveyed

Helmeted Hornbills are also considered a natural reforestation tool, excreting the seeds of the fruit they consume over large expanses of territory that they cover. 

On 8 March 2021, the Helmeted Hornbill was added to the list of Thailand’s reserved wildlife at a meeting of the committee on national wildlife conservation and protection meeting chaired by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa. This is the start of a legal process that will take approximately one year, after which it will be governed by the 2019 Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act whereby poachers or vendors of the listed wildlife will face hefty fines or prison sentences.

Meanwhile, the situation of the Helmeted Hornbills will be closely monitored by the Thailand Hornbill Research Foundation and the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation to ensure that they remain as part of the country’s natural heritage.