Action urged over hornbill hunting

Action urged over hornbill hunting

Numbers down to 100 due to poaching

A helmeted hornbill is seen standing on a tree trunk. (Photo courtesy of Hornbill Research Foundation)
A helmeted hornbill is seen standing on a tree trunk. (Photo courtesy of Hornbill Research Foundation)

Thailand now has only 100 helmeted hornbills (Rhinoplax vigil), a protected species, due to illegal hunting, and urgent intervention is needed, the Wildlife Conservation Office (WCO) said yesterday.

The remaining birds are confined to three wildlife conservation areas, namely Budo-Sungai Padi National Park, Hala-Bala Wildlife Sanctuary and Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary, said Kanchana Nittaya, director of the WCO.

The helmeted hornbill is on both the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species and Appendix I of species threatened with extinction of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

A recent round of surveys on the hornbill population found that although the bird has two nesting seasons, it successfully breeds only once a year now.

Helmeted hornbills are hunted for their babies and for their casques and ivory, according to Ms Kanchana.

In three previous crackdowns on helmeted hornbill hunting, five hunters were arrested while three live helmeted hornbills and one carcass were seized.

Most recently, Traffic, a non-governmental organisation working globally to combat trade in wild animals and plants, found that the vast majority of wildlife products posted for sale on the internet were hornbill-related, she said.

During a six-month period from last October to April this year, a total of 546 ornamental objects made of hornbill ivory and casques were offered for sale in 32 out of the monitored 40 online trading groups, she said.

Up to 83% of these hornbill products were made of helmeted hornbill casques and ivory.

The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department has also begun hiring a number of former hornbill poachers for a research project it is jointly conducting with the Hornbill Research Foundation, she said.

More importantly, her office is proposing to reclassify the helmeted hornbill as a "reserved wildlife species", rather than just a "protected wildlife species", in order to increase the level of punishment available and deter poaching.

Prida Thiansongratsami, head of a hornbill protection project operated in the South by Mahidol University, posted on his personal Facebook page that he had learned that four helmeted hornbills were recently poached in Budo-Sungai Padi National Park in Narathiwat.

"The average street value for each helmeted hornbill is 10,000 baht," said Mr Prida.

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