CITES 2019

Helmeted Hornbills in Decline: The Elephant in the Room

By Madhu Rao | August 31, 2019

Male hornbill at nest in Thailand. Credit: ©Morten Strange/Thailand Hornbill Project.

“Like elephants, helmeted hornbills represent an iconic species of great cultural and ecological significance to the Southeast Asia region.”

However, helmeted hornbill ivory is estimated to sell at three to five times the price of elephant ivory. A dramatic rise in the demand for — and illegal trade in — hornbill ivory, in combination with shrinking intact tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia, led to the helmeted hornbill’s categorization in 2015 on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, a species on the brink of extinction.

Helmeted hornbill casque (red ivory) with confiscated rifles with silencers in a bust in June 2014 in North Sumatra. Credit: Dewantoro for WCS.

“Without a doubt, in the absence of bold and targeted action, it is only a matter of time before we witness the permanent loss of this magnificent species — an avoidable tragedy.”

Mechanisms such as National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process have offered a way forward in strengthening the response of individual countries to address elephant poaching and/or ivory trade. In addition, CITES Parties with significant elephant ivory markets have taken important steps to curb the illegal trade in ivory, such as closing domestic ivory markets. In a similar vein, bold and unprecedented approaches, beyond business as usual, will be essential to pull the helmeted hornbill species back from the brink.

Confiscated casques of the helmeted hornbill. Photo credit: WCS

“CITES Parties adopted a Resolution at the CoP17 in 2016 calling for increased efforts by range and consumer states. That action was further strengthened at the recently concluded CoP18 in Geneva.”

Like elephants, helmeted hornbills represent an iconic species of great cultural and ecological significance to the Southeast Asia region. Without a doubt, in the absence of bold and targeted action, it is only a matter of time before we witness the permanent loss of this magnificent species — an avoidable tragedy.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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