Caught in the Crossfire: Rhinoceros Hornbill

Caught in the Crossfire: Rhinoceros Hornbill

The most distinctive feature of the Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros (Near Threatened) is its spectacular horn or “casque”. The casque evolved as a resonating chamber to amplify the hornbill’s echoing, otherworldly call. The casque isn’t the only fascinating thing about the Hornbill though.

This bird’s courtship involves the ultimate leap of faith. After the eggs are laid, the expectant parents wall up their hole in a tree trunk with a “cement” barrier of mud, food and faeces – with the female and eggs inside.

All that’s left is a tiny aperture, just large enough for the male to poke his beak through with food.

Caught in the Crossfire: Rhinoceros Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill feeding © Arnon Polin

But even this excessive safety measure can’t protect the Hornbill from human encroachment upon the untouched, old-growth forests of Southeast Asia where it lives. And since Hornbills nest in the largest trees, their homes are at the greatest risk from logging. Forest clearance then makes it easier for hunters to poach these birds, which are eaten, traded as pets or used in ceremonial dress by indigenous communities.

One of the most shocking threats, however, comes from a case of mistaken identity. The Rhinoceros Hornbill is often mistaken for the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil, another member of the family whose unusual, solid casque is more valuable than ivory on the black market. Hunters are so desperate not to miss their chance at seizing one of these Critically Endangered birds that they will shoot at anything that bears a passing resemblance.

Due to these pressures, the Rhinoceros Hornbill’s population is now suspected to be declining rapidly. As such, it is one of several species now being discussed on BirdLife’s Globally Threatened Bird Forums, where potential changes to the Red List in 2018 are proposed. We’re calling on all bird species experts to share their knowledge with us.

This article was first published by BirdLife International on 14 Aug 2018.


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