The hornbill requires large areas of intact forest to survive, so the status of the hornbill population is in many ways a key indicator of the overall health of the tropical forest.
Unfortunately, the hornbill population has decreased severely and many species are now endangered following the destruction of their habitats. These birds also face the threat of local people stealing hornbill babies from their nests to sell into the pet trade. Villagers around Budo-Sungai Padi National Park earn their living working as hired hands in rubber and fruit orchards. Their incomes are extremely low and they hunt the babies of wild animals for sale to gain extra money. Even though hornbill chicks are available only once a year, they yield a high price, anywhere from 15,000-30,000 baht ($350-700 USD). The practice of stealing and selling the chicks is widespread and negatively affects hornbill populations.
The Hornbill Research Foundation, in existence since 1978, tries to stop hornbill smuggling by turning hunters into hornbill protectors. To do this, the Foundation has made local people part of the hornbill conservation program, hiring them to guard the nests from further stealing and to help researchers collect information about the birds. This provides villagers with some income as compensation and an incentive not to return to selling baby hornbills. Villagers can also help expand the research and help protect the hornbills under their care.
Local villagers know the forest terrain thoroughly, which is especially important because some of the study areas are still not totally safe from terrorist threat. Villagers also have knowledge of the whereabouts of the hornbills' nests as well as the birds' mating season and their behavior and diet. Researchers have taught the villagers how to observe the birds so that they aren't seen, and also how to collect the needed information.
At present, the project covers 84 nests of seven species; the Rhinoceros Hornbill, Great hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Black Hornbill and Wrinkled Hornbill. They are watched over by 20 people from eight villages.
The Hornbill Research Foundation has started the Hornbill Family Adoption Project to raise funds from the public to provide income for villagers to encourage continued efforts to conserve hornbills. This project allows local villagers to help secure long-term hornbill populations in the area.
The Minnesota Zoo’s Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program awarded the Hornbill Family Adoption Project $600 which is sufficient to adopt five hornbill nests in 2003 and again in 2004. By adopting one of Thailand's many species of hornbill, we are helping save these endangered birds from extinction.
Photo courtesy of the Hornbill Family Adoption Program.