Environment

After Forty Years, the Spectacular Hornbill May Soon Soar in Thailand’s Jungles (VIDEO)

Wiped out by hunting, the keystone bird species once thrived in Northern Thailand’s tropical forests.

Photo Credit: Attila JANDI/Shutterstock

The Oriental Pied Hornbill may be re-introduced into the jungle of northern Thailand as a result of a collaboration between the Hornbill Research Foundation of Mahidol University and Flight of the Gibbon.

The hornbill (Antracoceros Albirostris) is most widely recognized for its brightly colored beak and spectacular swooping wing span. It has been 40 years since the hornbill prospered in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The Oriental Pied Hornbills are a keystone bird species which once thrived in Northern Thailand’s tropical forests, dispersing the seeds of many tree species and thus ensuring continued food supplies for many other bird and mammal species. Hunting has largely wiped them out, although suitable forest remains or can be restored.

Field work to determine if the hornbill could be re-introduced began in June, 2015. I have spearheaded the project with Dr. Pilai Poonswad, founder of the Hornbill Research Foundation at Mahidol University. Dr. Poonswad’s work to save the hornbill started in 1978 and has been recognized worldwide. She has been called the “Great mother of the Hornbills."

The Oriental Pied Hornbill is one of 13 hornbill species native to Thailand. It has been chosen for this program for its general hardiness and ability to nest in slightly adverse conditions. It is one of the most adaptable hornbill species in Thailand. The area being studied is just outside of the small village of Mae Kampong, 50km east of Thailand’s second largest city Chiang Mai. Mae Kampong is the home of Chiang Mai’s Flight of the Gibbon experience. Someday soon, visitors to Mae Kampong may be able to see this amazing bird in the wild soaring above and through the jungle canopy again.

“Hornbills have both ecological and symbolic importance. Restoring the population will not only help to secure survival of the species but it will also re-establish the forest’s ecological balance. Symbolically, the return of this iconic bird species shows that losses of forests and wildlife can be reversed and there is hope for the future of northern Thailand’s spectacular forest ecosystems”, according to Dr. Stephen Elliot, Director of FORRU, The Forest Restoration Research Unit of Chiang Mai University.

Demis Galli is the Director of Conservation at Flight of the Gibbon.

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