Indonesia: Hornbill poaching rampant in Gorontalo

Syamsul Huda M. Suhari The Jakarta Post 30 Apr 16;

Kadir Hanafi, 40, took down the beak of a knobbed hornbill hanging near the door of his house in Puncak Jaya village, Taluditi district in the regency of Pohuwato, Gorontalo. As he’s showing the beak, he said he got it from a hunter over 10 years ago.

A man of Gorontalo origin who migrated to Puncak Jaya, Kadir said he deliberately hung the beak in his house with the belief that it had magical powers to ward off peril and disaster.

“That is what people say. I just follow. I am not the only one doing the same thing,” he said Wednesday.

Wagiyanto, 48, another migrant in Puncak Jaya who originates from Java, on the other hand, said he collected the beak of the hornbill, locally known as the Alo bird, more because he was interested in its beautiful shape.

“About its magical element, I don’t believe it. It’s just a myth,” he said, adding that he got the beak himself from his own hunting activities in 2015. He said a flock of Alo birds flew over his village back then. He shot one down with an air gun. He collected the beak and consumed the meat.

He said at that time he did not know that the bird was protected. Now a member of the village consultative council ( BPD ), Wagiyanto said he had issued a ban on people hunting protected birds.

Puncak Jaya is a transmigration village established by the government in 2002. It is located 223 kilometers from the provincial capital of Gorontalo and is inhabited by Gorontalese and Javanese ethnic communities.

The area previously was a protected forest. It’s not surprising that various animals can be found there. The village has been the habitat of the Alo bird, the local name of Julang Sulawesi ( Rhyticeros cassidix ), an endemic bird species of the island.

Cultural observer Karmin Baruadi of Gorontalo State University’s School of Literature and Culture suggested that the tradition of hanging the beak of a bird inside a house was a legacy from cultural animism.

“The Gorontalese culture, as far as I know, does not recognize such a tradition,” he said, adding that the tradition could have been the faith of a few people that was passed on to generations.

Biodiversity officer Panji Ahmad Fauzan of Burung Indonesia, said the Julang Sulawesi bird or popularly known as “rangkong” was a protected Sulawesi endemic bird.

In Gorontalo, the birds have been a favorite among poachers. Due to massive poaching, the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ) has declared the species vulnerable. Panji said Julang Sulawesi was a key animal for the survival of a forest ecosystem.

Margaret F. Kinnaird and Timothy G. O’Brien, senior ecologists and researchers of rangkong from the Wildlife Conservation Society ( WCS ), nicknamed rangkong as the “farmers of the forest” due to their role of spreading seeds. They said there was a positive correlation between rangkong and healthy forests.

There are many trees whose survival depend on fruit-eating birds to spread their seeds. Without rangkong, particular trees for sure will disappear because no new plants could replace old and dying ones.

Ara are among the rangkong’s favorite fruits as they are available almost the whole year. There are 200 estimated ara tree species that have been the main food source for rangkong. The bird has been considered as the best ara seed spreaders thanks to its high coverage area.

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