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.

Feb 7

#LoveSpecies nominee: helmeted hornbill

Nominated by: World Land Trust

Why do you love it?

The fierce appearance of the world’s largest hornbill, with a battering ram of solid keratin fixed to their face, suits its medieval mating rituals. The males clash mid-air in head-to-head combat (an impressive display called aerial jousting) to win access to fruiting fig trees. Females then lock themselves up in nesting holes with mud, where they lay their eggs and rely entirely on their mate for their survival, and that of their offspring. 

What are the threats to the helmeted hornbill? 

The helmeted hornbill is targeted by poachers for the helmet-like casque on the upper half of its beak. Unlike other hornbills, this casque is made from a solid ivory-like substance, which makes them a prime target for the illegal wildlife trade.

In recent years, demand for hornbill ivory has seen a concerning rise, with around 6,000 helmeted hornbills lost every year, causing them to be classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

Helmeted hornbills are also highly threatened by the rapid rates of forest loss. The escalation of illegal logging and land conversion, as well as forest fires, has significantly reduced suitable habitat for the species.


What are you doing to save it?

World Land Trust (WLT) works in Malaysian Borneo with conservation partner Hutan to preserve habitat for endangered species like the Helmeted Hornbill. As well as funding the purchase of land to create important wildlife corridors, WLT funds the employment of members of local communities to manage and protect the land, and to encourage sustainable, traditional practices.

As the hornbill’s natural habitat is declining Hutan has also established a next box programme to provide safe nesting locations where hornbills can be monitored.

Mar 27

Arkive’s Week in Review — Wildlife News

ICYMI: Arkive has compiled some of the biggest and most interesting headlines from this week.

Article originally published on Friday, Mar 20, 2015

Pleasure palace in Lao facilitates wildlife poaching for Chinese elites

Chinese-pangolin

Chinese pangolin

A city-sized resort in Laos is facilitating large scale wildlife trafficking for Chinese tourists. Visitors can openly buy endangered species products including pangolins and helmeted hornbills.

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

Helmeted hornbill male

Article originally published on Saturday, Mar 21, 2015

Green sea turtle still at risk, say wildlife agencies

Green-turtle-ventral-view

Green turtle ventral view

Hawaii has fewer than 4,000 nesting green turtles with 96 percent of them nesting at French Frigate Shoals. This makes the population highly vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

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Article originally published on Sunday, Mar 22, 2015

Opossums may come to humans’ rescue for snake anti-venom

Patagonian-opossum-portrait

Patagonian opossum

Opossums suffer no ill effects from snake bite venom due to a protein which appears to neutralize the venom. Poisonous snake bites account for the death of 20,000 humans a year.

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Article originally published on Monday, Mar 23, 2015

Skin microbiome may hold clue to protect threatened golden frogs from lethal fungus

Golden-arrow-poison-frog-on-leaf

Golden arrow poison frog on leaf

Researchers applied the beneficial bacteria from the skin of several  wild Panamanian frog species that were Bd-resistant to the skin of the golden arrow poison frog hoping it would confer resistance. While this procedure did not confer resistance, researchers learned that survivors of the fungus already possessed unique bacterial communities prior to the experiment.

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Article originally published on Tuesday, Mar 24, 2015

World’s forest have fragmented into tiny patches

Munchique-wood-wren-on-the-hand-of-a-scientist

Munchique wood-wren

Fragmentation reduces biodiversity by up to 75%. Some fragmented regions house endemic species such as the Munchique wood-wren that exists in only a handful of peaks in the Colombian Andes, but these are now isolated from each other by pastures and roads.

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Article originally published on Wednesday, Mar 25, 2015

Elephant poaching rate unchanged – and still devastating

Forest-elephant-bull

Forest elephant bull

Around 20,000 elephants were killed in 2014, which is the same as 2013. China remains the largest market for ivory, while the United States is second.

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Article originally published on Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Why there is a record number of starving sea lion pups this year

Young-California-sea-lion

Young California sea lion

Since the start of the year, more than 1,800 sea lion pups have washed up on California shore from San Diego to San Francisco. Researchers are looking at warmer oceans as the primary culprit.

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Enjoy your weekend!

William Lazaro, Arkive Social Media Intern, Wildscreen USA

 

 

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