Hornbills are among the world’s most charismatic birds, thanks to their large size, bright colors and elaborately-structured bills. In Southeast Asia they occupy an important ecological niche as builders of rainforests, by consuming a wide variety of fruit and then dispersing the seeds throughout the forest. It is said that the forests need the hornbill as much as the hornbills need the forests! Hornbills are also known for their fascinating social relationships and unique nesting behavior. The female bird is walled up inside a hollow tree cavity by the male to protect the nest while she raises their offspring; she and her chicks are entirely dependent on her mate to deliver food during this time. Hornbills maintain strong pair bonds and stay together year after year, returning to the same nest site to raise their young. The Hornbill Nest Project helps them succeed in forest environments that are increasingly under threat.
Deforestation is a serious problem throughout Southeast Asia, and Thailand is no exception. Forests are cleared to make way for agriculture, and illegal logging continues at an alarming pace. Hornbills’ unique nesting behavior and preference for large hardwood trees makes them particularly vulnerable - nest sites and female birds with young can be destroyed by logging, burning and clear-cutting of forests, and the loggers may not even be aware of the hornbills’ presence.
The Pet Trade
Charismatic bird species are especially vulnerable to poaching for the pet industry. Illegal wildlife trafficking has a devastating impact on animal welfare, species conservation, and ecosystems. Second to habitat loss, it is a major cause of species extinction in the wild. Ninety percent of smuggled animals die in transit, and those that survive need constant care and often are unable to return to the wild if taken away from their mothers at a young age.
Nest Protection and Monitoring
The Hornbill Nest Adoption Project works with rural communities in southern Thailand to protect hornbills from poaching and deforestation, by employing villagers as “nest guardians”. To date, more than 250 nests have been adopted, including naturally occurring nests as well as nests constructed and installed by the project. The project provides a financial incentive for local people (some of whom used to be poachers for the illegal pet trade), and also instills a sense of pride in local communities as they become stewards of the forest and its unique wildlife. In addition to providing protection, nest guardians also monitor the hornbill nests and provide valuable data for researchers.
Community Education Programs
The Hornbill Nest Project is part of the Hornbill Research Foundation, which has established the Budo Hornbill Conservation and Education Center to reach out to local people and build a strong foundation for forest and wildlife conservation in rural communities. Their Youth Education Program includes “We Love Hornbills” nature camps and a nation-wide Hornbill Painting Competition. The project provides teacher training and produces educational exhibitions, booklets, and multi-media video and slide presentations for both adults and children, to help local residents better understand the importance of the forest to their lives and the urgent need for conservation. Local people also have the opportunity for training as guides and field assistants for hornbill research, and can benefit from the project’s support of handicraft sales at the Budo Education Center.
Research and Collaboration
The project’s current research focus includes surveying the range and status of hornbill populations throughout Thailand, and studying the biology and ecology of endangered hornbill species. The Hornbill Research Foundation recently formed a partnership with HUTAN in Malaysian Borneo to exchange knowledge and conservation strategies that can benefit the hornbill population in northern Borneo, another important Asian habitat for these amazing birds.
Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Grant has provided funds for the Hornbill Nest Adoption Project. Funding sent to this project helps the Hornbill Research Foundation collect data on the biological and ecological aspects of these birds, as well as supporting the nest guardian program.
Outreach and Education
Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations, special events and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about hornbills and other Asian wildlife.
Our teen eco-tour to Thailand spent time with the Hornbill Nest Project, gaining invaluable insight into the conservation challenges facing the human and wildlife populations of Southeast Asia.
Oakland Zoo’s gift shop sells crafts made by the artisans who work with the Hornbill Nest Project.