Helmeted hornbill driven to extinction due to the Chinese demand for ‘red ivory’

Items made from the beak or casque of the helmeted hornbill, a tropical bird native to Southeast Asia, have become the latest must-have thing in the world of illegal wildlife trading.

With an increasing demand for its enlarged beak and headpiece, poaching of the species has shot up in the past five years.

The helmet or casque is a solid lump fused along the top of its dark yellow bill and up onto its skull. The casque’s golden red colour adds to its attraction. Many species of hornbill have casques, but most are hollow – the helmeted hornbill’s is unique as it is solid.

The bird is increasingly referred to as “ivory on wings”, but its red casque, like rhino horn, is made of solid keratin. It is softer than ivory, which makes it easier to carve into jewelry and ornaments.

Products made from helmeted hornbill sell for three to five times the price of elephant ivory. This has triggered a boom in poaching, driving the bird to near extinction.

The dramatic rise in the demand for hornbill ivory, combined with its shrinking forest habitats, led to the helmeted hornbill’s categorization in 2015 on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, a species on the brink of extinction.

Although it has been listed in Appendix 1 of  CITES since the 1970s as illegal, the bird is much sought after on the black market.

Madhu Rao, Regional Advisor for the Asia Programme at the Wildlife Conservation Society writes in Medium that the recent upsurge in poaching is likely to push the hornbill over the edge. He says their “extensive habitat requirements, naturally low population densities, a relatively low reproductive rate, and the hornbills’ habit of flocking at fruiting trees where they may be easily shot by hunters are other factors underlying their acute vulnerability”.

The helmeted hornbill ivory trade is mostly restricted to Southeast Asia and China. Its only hope is that the trade networks between its rainforest home and the end market in China can be disrupted and dismantled.

Watch: Ivory-like helmets are driving these birds to extinction

Source: Capricorn Review

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