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Saturday, October 15, 2022

hornbill driven to extinction ~ for 'ivory' - it is not only elephants !!

The hornbills (Bucerotidae) are a family of bird found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia. They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is frequently brightly coloured.  Both the common English and the scientific name of the family refer to the shape of the bill, "buceros" being "cow horn" in Greek.

 A very large bird in this family is the ‘helmetted hornbil’ (Rhinoplax vigil), found on the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. It has mostly blackish plumage, except that the belly and legs are white and the tail is white with a black band near the tip of each feather. The tail is long and the two central tail feathers are much longer than the others, giving the bird a total length greater than that of any other hornbill species.  This species has a bare, wrinkled throat patch, blue in females and red in males. The call is described as hoots followed by maniacal laughter. This bird eats mostly fruit, especially figs.

Ivory, the hard, white material derived from the tusks and teeth of animals, especially the mammoth elephant is very costly. It consists of dentine, a tissue that is similar to bone. It has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes and joint tubes. Ivory has many ornamental and for some medicinal purposes. Prior to the introduction of plastics, it was used for billiard balls, piano keys, Scottish bagpipes, buttons and a wide range of ornamental items.  Whether it is costly or useful ~ it looks good on an elephant and is its body part, not an ornamental piece meant for your display…………..globally, poachers have been killing elephants for ivory ~ that way the likes of Veerappan were never alone !

It is a news to me that ‘ivory is not gotten from elephants alone!’  - recently read this article in MailOnline on Chinese lust for ivory killing World's weirdest bird - the helmeted hornbill whose ivory fetched £4,000 per kilo (three times that of an elephant !!!)

Report says the bird is the latest victim of organised wildlife crime.  It is one of the world’s strangest birds, with a huge domed bill, a 6ft wingspan and a call that sounds like maniacal laughter as it echoes across the Borneo rainforest. But the helmeted hornbill is being driven towards extinction – by a surge in the black-market demand for its ivory in China. The bird – dubbed ‘the farmer of the rainforest’ for its vital seed-spreading role – has become the latest victim of organised wildlife crime, according to a report to be published this week by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Its ivory is now worth three times more than that of elephants, and illegal poaching is spiralling out of control. Hornbill expert warned: ‘If no one pays attention, this bird is going to become extinct.’ The illegal trade is being fuelled by the desires of China’s wealthy middle classes for carved ivory items. With ‘white’ elephant ivory and rhino horn becoming more scarce, the EIA found traffickers were dealing instead in ‘red’ ivory from a hornbill casque.   This now sells for as much as £4,000 (Rs.3.71 lakhs approx) a kilo – three times the price of elephant ivory.

There are no reliable estimates of the impact of poaching on populations across the hornbills’ historic range of Borneo, Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula, but in one region alone, the Kalimantan, an estimated 6,000 birds are killed every year. Mr Hadiprakarsa, director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, said: 'A few years ago helmeted hornbills were common in the West Kalimantan, but on my last visit I didn't see any and local villagers said they hadn't either.  'Hunters are now pushing into the remotest areas of the forest.’

Poachers, who shoot then decapitate the birds, often return from expeditions with as many as 20 hornbill heads.  These are then sold for up to £300 each to middle men or direct to smugglers exporting to Hong Kong and China. EIA campaigner Debbie Banks said: ‘What is sickening is this trade has nothing to do with tradition or medicine – it’s purely about demand for luxury vanity products.’

Man’s greed …. Often kills and exterminates many other species !!
With regards – S. Sampathkumar

16th Mar 2015.

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