PETALING JAYA: The Helmeted Hornbill is the largest in the hornbill family, the national bird of Malaysia. It can be found in southern Myanmar, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra.
It has a solid casque – a thick layer of keratin above its beak – similar to fingernails or rhino horn.
The casques can be carved into beautiful and exotic accessories for women and decorative ornaments and sold three to five times more than the price of elephant ivory.
The male hornbill uses its casque for head-to-head combat – aerial casque butting or aerial jousting.
This little-known behaviour appears to occur as a contest for access to fruiting fig trees.
According to conservation group Traffic, the hornbill casques are well sought after on the black market, resulting in extensive poaching in Kalimantan and Sumatra by organised wildlife syndicates.
“With the increasing demand for the hornbill’s casques, it has encouraged extensive poaching, and the rapid deforestation in South-East Asia has threatened the species’ habitats, bringing the bird close to extinction, ” Traffic said in its report.
The report also stated that in Sumatra, the species has almost entirely disappeared from many areas where it was previously found.
According to Fauna & Flora International, an international wildlife conservation organisation, it is estimated that 500 helmeted hornbills are killed every month in 2013 in western Kalimantan alone.
The Helmeted Hornbill was uplisted from near threatened to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2015.
The BirdLife International Asia pointed out that based on statistics compiled by the organisation, about 2,900 casques were seized globally in at least 59 seizure incidents between 2010 and 2017.