When talking about endangered species in Malaysia, the Malayan Tiger usually comes to mind first, followed by the Pygmy Elephant, the Malayan Tapir and the now-extinct Sumatran Rhino. But poachers are also hunting down one particular bird: the Helmeted Hornbill.
Elusive helmet hornbills were once found in the tropical rainforests across South East Asia (Borneo, Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand). But in recent years their numbers have plummeted dramatically. In 2015, the helmeted hornbill was uplisted from near-threatened to critically-endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Why all that?
Rare helmeted hornbills are killed for their ‘crowns’. This casque is made of keratin similar to rhino horns and fingernails. Unlike other hornbill species which have hollow casques, the red casque of this Helmet hornbill is solid and is therefore preferably used to carve out decorative ornaments.
Deemed as “red ivory”, it is sold three to five times more expensive than elephant ivory in the black market. In the hands of a Chinese master craftsman, a decorative carving can fetch anything between US$2,000 (RM8,420) and US$10,000 (RM42,100) a piece.
Increasing demand among China’s rich for red ivory accessories and ornaments caused syndicates to raise the price of these casques in order to entice more locals to hunt down the species in the country. After a clampdown on illegal poaching activities in Indonesia, the hunt for these majestic birds further intensified in Malaysia. Wildlife syndicates are using human couriers to smuggle the casques across the Kalimantan-Sarawak border and ship these red ivories through Kuching airport.”
Alive or dead? Living free, or a decoration in someone’s home? What is to be the fate of the Helmeted Hornbill? Read more about the shocking findings of conservationist Yoki Hadiprakarsa here -> Hornbill poaching for the black market