Saving Species From Extinction: Asian Hornbills

Saving Species From Extinction: Asian Hornbills

Affectionately known as ‘gardeners of the rainforest’, Asian Hornbills play a huge role in seed dispersal in their habitats. As some of the largest and most visually striking birds seen in zoos across the world, their bold presence emphasizes the many threats they face! These magnificent birds are fighting extreme habitat loss, wildlife trafficking, and traditional hunting to survive, along with many of the other animals that share the tropical Asian rainforests.

While we are working to regain our accreditation, we still work very closely with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to determine the global species conservation projects that need our support. Here at the Baton Rouge Zoo, we have two species of Asian Hornbill, the Rhinoceros Hornbill and the Wrinkled Hornbill. There is a male and female of both species, who through our partnership with AZA, have been identified as a desirable genetic match for reproduction. This is part of the SSP (Saving Species Plan), although captive breeding is only one way that we are working to ensure their species’ survival.

Through the Baton Rouge Zoo Foundation, we raise money to donate to specific conservation programs. We recently joined the Asian Hornbill SAFE Program. This program supports the biodiversity and habitat conservation of 15 Asian Hornbill species identified for protection. Their IUCN status ranges from vulnerable to critically endangered due to habitat loss, trafficking and local hunting that threaten their survival.

Aiding the crisis is no easy feat. Money raised supports field conservation work and research through population monitoring, nest protection and habitat enhancements.

Commercial and illegal logging for large-scale plantations of palm oil and rubber are rapidly eliminating the forests where the hornbills live, nest, and find food. Advocates of the SAFE Program work with the public and stakeholders of the area to communicate the ecological importance of the species' survival with the goal of reducing demand for their habitats as plantations.

Wildlife tracking is another major threat to Asian Hornbills. The Hornbill Nest Adoption Program by the Woodland Park Zoo fights wildlife trafficking in Thailand. This program began in 1978 when Dr. Pilai Poonswad started a research and conservation program to protect four species of hornbills in the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. He expanded the program to the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in 1991 and the Budo-Su-Ngai Padi National Park in 1994.

In countries such as Thailand, wildlife poaching provides income for many villagers. Before he began his work in the Budo-Su-Ngai Padi National Park in 1994, poaching of hornbill chicks was very common among the community. But then Dr. Poonswad started working with local villagers to stop them from stealing hornbill chicks for the illegal pet trade. Instead, he convinced them to work for the Thailand Hornbill Project to earn income.

However, funding for the program didn’t appear from thin air. So in 1997, he created the nest adoption program. Through this program, there are currently 17 artificial nest boxes in Budo-Su-Ngai Padi National Park. The villagers who work for the Thailand Hornbill Project work to sustain the natural resources at the research sites and protect nests.

There are currently 70 families of hornbills and 140 nest trees being observed and protected every year by 40 local research assistants. There is still a long way to go to solve the crisis, but the Hornbill Nest Adoption program is proof of how a research, strategic plan that empathizes with the people in the community can make a real difference in the ecosystem!