Jul 24

Since its inception in 1982 each Wildscreen Festival has utilised wildlife photographs or illustrations to provide each year with a unique and memorable visual identity.  As the 2018 Festival draws closer, we are incredibly excited to introduce the illustrations will become the face of this year’s Festival!  The 2018 Festival focusses on telling the story of biodiversity – the amazing diversity of life on Earth, from species to ecosystems.  We value the world’s more underappreciated and endangered species and habitats, and have therefore chosen five to showcase as the 2018 Festival Mascots!

First up, the wonderfully colourful, helmeted hornbill.  Tim Knight, from Fauna and Flora International, describes the surprising threat they face and the conservation efforts underway to save this charismatic yet critically endangered bird.

The helmeted hornbill.  Illustration by Lorna Leigh Harrington

The last laugh – How long before the helmeted hornbill falls silent?

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the maniacal cackle of a helmeted hornbill. I was standing beneath a massive fruiting fig tree in the middle of the Brunei rainforest – not exactly the heart of Borneo, but it was certainly wild enough for me – and craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the gibbons in the canopy. The ripening fruit was a magnet for all manner of other wildlife too, from wild pigs, diminutive mouse deer and tufted jungle king butterflies on the forest floor to pig-tailed macaques, barbets and, yes, hornbills in the treetops.

More often heard than seen, Brunei’s resident hornbill species are readily identifiable by their characteristic calls or, in the case of the wreathed hornbill, wingbeats reminiscent of the sound of a departing steam train. But it is the helmeted hornbill’s madcap laughter that stops you in your tracks. It starts innocuously enough with a few tentative ‘poops’, but these become increasingly urgent, rising in a crescendo towards a hysterical climax.

Back in England, a playback of this ridiculous call was the highlight of every rainforest talk that I inflicted on schoolchildren around the country, providing a suitably entertaining finale to a recording of the rainforest soundscape.

The helmeted hornbill’s physical appearance isn’t exactly conventional either, with its incongruously long central tail feathers and an impressively large casque – from which this bird derives its name. The latter feature in particular has made this species a prime target for illegal wildlife traders. Typically, hornbill casques are light and hollow, but the helmeted hornbill’s appendage is a solid, ivory-like block, making it ideal for carving into ornamental trinkets. Increasing demand for such products, combined with rapid deforestation, poses a grave threat to the survival of the species throughout most of its range.

The tiny nation of Brunei is an exception to the rule; as an oil-rich country, it can afford not to sell logging or oil palm concessions to the highest bidder, meaning that its magnificent rainforests remain virtually pristine. Strict firearms controls also ensure that poaching is minimal.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, however, the situation is far less rosy. Severe hunting pressure and widespread habitat loss have led to the helmeted hornbill being officially categorised as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. That’s one small step from extinction in the wild.

Female helmeted hornbill

As someone whose spirits were lifted by almost daily encounters with this awesome bird, I’m finding that eventuality difficult to contemplate. The good news is that helmeted hornbills are benefiting – directly and indirectly – from the work of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its partners in Southeast Asia.

In Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, the anti-poaching and forest protection activities of FFI’s tiger teams are having a tangible impact on illegal wildlife trade and deforestation, disrupting the trafficking networks that deal not only in tigers and timber, but also in pangolin scales and helmeted hornbill ‘ivory’.

Closer collaboration between the park authorities and provincial police departments – and the consequent improvements in law enforcement that this brings – are helping FFI and its partners to reduce wildlife and forest crime in and around Sumatra’s largest protected area. Organised trade syndicates are fragmenting, black market prices for helmeted hornbill casques have fallen, and traders are less willing to fund hornbill hunting gangs. There is obviously a need for continued vigilance, but these are all encouraging signs.

Helmeted hornbill male with large stick insect to be delivered to female in nest.

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring island of Borneo, the Conservation Leadership Programme – in which FFI is a leading partner – is supporting a team of Malaysian conservationists who are addressing the shortage of suitable natural nest cavities for hornbills – the result of widespread logging of the largest trees. Nest boxes have been erected in the most promising locations and are being closely monitored for signs of activity.

Rhinoceros and wrinkled hornbills are among the species that have already been observed using or checking out these artificial nest sites. The team hopes that continual improvements in the design of the boxes will encourage more birds – including helmeted hornbills – to use them.

It’s well over 20 years since I last visited Borneo and encountered a helmeted hornbill calling in the wild, but the memory of that extraordinary sound is indelibly etched on my brain. Here’s hoping that this bird’s lunatic laughter continues to reverberate through Southeast Asia’s remaining rainforests long into the future.

 

To find out more about FFI’s work with the helmeted hornbill check out their website.

Jan 23

Patrick Rouxel is an environmental filmmaker and conservationist whose films include the multi award-winning Green and Alma. Patrick’s most recent film, Life Is One, was nominated for a 2016 Wildscreen Panda Award in the Creative Innovation category and has recently won the Best Wildlife Film Award at the New York Wild Film Festival.  It is the story of a return to life in the wild for three sun bear cubs in Indonesia. Patrick’s encounter with these three cubs has changed his life and he now focuses on improving the welfare of captive sun bears in Indonesia and raising awareness on their plight through his charity Sun Bear Outreach. This is his story.

Patrick Rouxel

I’ve been making films on conservation and animal welfare since 2014, specializing on the Indonesian rainforest, the Congo Basin and the Amazon. In my travels I would often come across animals kept in very bad conditions, I would usually film them and then move on. With the footage I helped raise awareness about animal suffering, but this did not change anything for those animals I had filmed. I had not altered their misery in any way.

In 2010, as I was making fundraising films for a small orangutan rescue centre based in Borneo, Indonesia, we received a small sun bear cub in a wooden box that villagers had brought in from their village. The mother bear must have been shot, but luckily the cub was brought to the rescue centre rather than sold as a pet to some private owner. She was a female that I named Bunbun and I took care of her for the several weeks. I grew very fond of her and I didn’t want her to spend the rest of her life in a cage, so this time, rather than move on, I decided to stay and give her back her freedom.

Sun bear in small cage

It took about nine months before I was actually able to bring Bunbun to the forest. The reintroduction took place in a national park with a remote camp serving as base. It was a progressive adaptation to life in the wild. I was going to stay in the forest with Bunbun until she grew fully independent. Every morning at dawn, I would let her out of her night cage and we would spend the whole day in the forest to play, explore and search for food. But she couldn’t find enough food to satisfy her appetite, and in the late afternoon, she would gladly go back to her night cage close to camp where food awaited her. She made no fuss at being locked in for the night as she knew that she would spend the whole next day in the forest again.

Bunbun

Unfortunately, after just 3 months in the forest, Bunbun disappeared, never to be seen again. She was not yet fully autonomous, so I fear for the worse. I then encountered another 2 sun bear cubs, Bernie and Wawang, in another rescue centre and decided to try another reintroduction with them. This time I had the cubs equipped with implant emitters to be able to track them down. All went very well at first and the cubs learnt a lot from one another, but after just 6 weeks, the male cub, Wawang, was killed in a fight with another wild bear. Luckily, Bernie had been spared. Wawang’s death was a blow but Bernie and I had no choice but to overcome his loss and pursued together her path to adulthood. We spent about a year together in the forest before Bernie was able to find enough food to sustain herself and gradually went off into the forest for longer and longer periods before not coming back to camp anymore.

Bernie and Wawang in the forest

From having spent so much time in the forest with the bears, I have learnt to appreciate how they belong to the tropical rainforest, how energetic and inquisitive they are and how they love to play. There was never a dull moment with the bears in the forest, they were active and on the move from dawn to dusk, and their favourite activity besides eating was playing. Besides a few dogs I know who are always happy, I had never seen an animal express so much joy at the simple fact of being alive. Through Bunbun, Bernie and Wawang, I discovered a magnificent expression of life on earth.

Bernie climbing a tree

There is something wrong about depriving any living creature of its freedom, but keeping a sun bear in a cage is something particularly cruel. I am sure that the degree of joy a sun bear feels when living a free life in the forest matches the extent of pain he feels when locked in a cage. Sun bears hate to be locked up, they’ll go crazy from not being able to express their energy. And in Indonesia there are many sun bears locked in cages. These bears have lost their mothers, their freedom and their habitat. They’ve been so deprived of everything that they wouldn’t even be able to survive in the wild if they were given the opportunity.

Bernie with her friend Bagor, a Bornean orangutan

Strangely, sun bears are mostly unheard of by the international public and there is not a single local or international organisation in Indonesia dedicated to rescuing sun bears and caring for them. So I founded my own charity called Sun Bear Outreach, and through this charity I raise funds that I use to improve the welfare of the bears I encounter, individual by individual. I go to the places where sun bears are kept in poor conditions and I construct bigger cages and large forest enclosures, so that the bears can at least feel the earth under their paws, dig, run and climb trees.

The Life is One film documents these early reintroductions and the trials and tribulations that Patrick endures to save these endangered bears.

Find out more about Patrick Rouxel and watch his films on his website.

Explore the Arkive sun bear species profile and learn more about these beautiful animals.

May 26

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Hotlin Ompusunggu – Dentistry and reforestation: scaling up models to protect orangutans and improve health, Borneo

Hotlin’s amazing conservation project received Whitley funding in 2011, 2013, 2014 and again this year when her project was honoured with a Whitley Gold Award worth £50,000. Not your average conservation leader, Hotlin is a Doctor of Dental Surgery and cofounded Alam Sehat Lestari, a Borneo-based NGO. Hotlin’s organisation provide heavily discounted healthcare to communities that live in the vicinity of Gulung Palung National Park for those who do not partake in logging activities, or pledge to stop doing so. The organisation will also provide healthcare to those who cannot afford to pay with money, in return for participation in reforestation activities or alternative livelihood programmes. After the extreme success of Hotlin’s project, she is now hoping to replicate this environmental and humanitarian improvement technique to other areas of Borneo.

Find out more about Hotlin’s work on the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about Alam Sehat Lestari

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