Indonesia: Poaching of endangered hornbill continues amid global demand

Bambang Muryanto, The Jakarta Post 26 Feb 16;

Hunting of the helmeted hornbill, or rangkong gading as the endangered species is locally called, continues unabated due to the high price that the bird’s casque fetches overseas.

Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa, the director of Rangkong Indonesia, said hunting of the bird could still be witnessed in hard-to-access forests of Central, East and North Kalimantan, close to the border with Malaysia.

“Hunting of the helmeted hornbill has not stopped until now, and it is even becoming more and more organized, so that the poachers cannot be easily nabbed by law enforcement authorities,” Yokyok told The Jakarta Post, recently.

The helmeted hornbill, a bird with a wingspan of 90 centimeters, is one of 13 similar species found in Indonesia. Its habitat is the lowland forest of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Birdlife International notes that the bird can also be found in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

The bird was the favorite topic at a recent conference of Indonesian bird lovers and researchers in Yogyakarta.

Yokyok said hunting of the helmeted hornbill flared significantly since 2012. According to Rangkong Indonesia’s records, around 6,000 of the birds are killed in West Kalimantan each year.

Yokyok added that confiscations of the much sought-after bills of the helmeted hornbill by law enforcement authorities in the US and China revealed that most of them came from Indonesia, which features the biggest population of the bird due to the country’s vast tropical forests and poor law enforcement.

He said that some 80 percent of the 2,343 bills seized were from West Kalimantan. “This is very ironic, because the protected bird is also the symbol of the province of West Kalimantan.”

Yokyok explained that the casque on the bill of the hornbill was heavier than the rest of the bird, which could reach up to 3 kilograms. Made of ivory, it contains a high amount of calcium and is considered to be superior to elephant tusk. In China, the bill is used in traditional medicine or carved into decorative art.

“The price is calculated per gram, with a kilogram of a rangkong bill priced much higher than a kilogram of tusk, which already costs tens of millions of rupiah,” he said.

During a survey in eight different habitats in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2015, Yokyok directly spotted the bird in just two locations.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed the helmeted hornbill as critically endangered in late 2015 due to the sharp decrease in the species’ population.

Subyantoro Tri Pradopo of the West Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said his office had conducted numerous operations against poaching of the bird. In 2015, it arrested two suspects who were sentenced to a year in prison.

He said the birds were typically smuggled overland to Serawak in Malaysia. The problem, he said, was that his office only placed officers at official border posts.

“In fact, many new border posts have been opened under the border area development program,” said Subyantoro, who currently studies in Yogyakarta.

He also said that the helmeted hornbill poaching network was difficult to detect, because it operated very carefully.

Chairman of the Indonesian Ornithology Association Ign. Pramana Yudha said some 17 percent of the country’s 2,000 bird species were on the brink of extinction.

“Our people still do not care enough about bird hunting,” he said.

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