Helmeted hornbill extinction imminent due to Chinese lust for ‘red ivory’

Unless poaching can be stopped, the Chinese demand for ‘red ivory’ will see the extinction of the helmeted hornbill.

The beak of the helmeted hornbill bird has become the latest must-have item in the world of illegal wildlife trading, Bosveld Review reports.

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

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The “helmet” or casque, for which the bird is hunted, is a solid lump fused along the top of its dark yellow bill and up onto the skull. The casque gets its golden red hue from protective tinted oils secreted by preen glands. Many species of hornbill have casques but most are hollow – the helmeted hornbill’s is unique because it is solid.

The tropical bird is native to the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo.

The helmeted hornbill is increasingly referred to as “ivory on wings,” the Associated Press reports. The red bills are made out of solid keratin, although it is marginally softer than ivory, making it easier to carve into jewelry or ornaments. Its reddish-orange colour adds to its allure.

Helmeted hornbill products sell for three to five times the price of elephant ivory. Their value has triggered a boom in poaching, sending the bird plunging towards extinction.

Although it has been listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) since the 1970s – which means the trade is illegal – the helmeted hornbill is much sought after on the black market.

The helmeted hornbill’s only hope  is that the trade networks between its rainforest home and the end market in China can be disrupted and dismantled.


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