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A price on their heads? IBCP co-authors new publication on African hornbill trade and hunting in Cameroon

26 March, 2024

The Black-casqued Hornbill (Ceratogymna atrata) is one of three species that accounted for 66% of online trade in hornbills. Photo by Bernard Dupont from France, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Unsustainable hunting and trapping to supply wildlife markets is a well-known threat to many bird species, such as vultures in Africa, and hornbills in Asia, and parrots worldwide. However, its consequences for African hornbills have received little attention. In a new publication, IBCP collaborated with Cameroonian researcher Francis Guetse at the University of Bamenda to investigate the demand for African hornbills in trade. In this analysis, we took into account both online trade in hornbills and interviews with hunters in the vicinity of Mont Nlonako, Cameroon, the site of an Important Bird Area and proposed wildlife reserve. Three African hornbill species — the Yellow-casqued Hornbill (Ceratogymna elata), Black-casqued Hornbill (C. atrata), and White-thighed Hornbill (Bycanistes albotibialis) — accounted for 66% of hornbill products we found for sale online.

The White-thighed Hornbill (Bycanistes albotibialis) is one of three species that accounted for 66% of online trade in hornbills. Photo by Sergey Pisarevskiy, courtesy of The World Birds.

Online hornbill trade includes skulls and other products from 20 African and five Asian species, the latter of which were all CITES-listed. Nearly half (nine out of 20) of the African hornbill species we found in online trade were native to Cameroon. Approximately 73% of Cameroonian hunters interviewed targeted hornbills, with 91% of these motivated to acquire hornbill heads for trade, and 98% intending to sell their products to foreign buyers. Hunters indicated that the demand for hornbill heads was influenced by buyers from Asia, with locals understanding the nationality of buyers as Chinese, although it was not possible to confirm this. Our investigation indicated a shift in hunting behavior in Cameroon that can be traced back over a span of two years, with younger hunters targeting hornbills more frequently.

A Cameroonian hunter holds a Yellow-casqued Hornbill (Ceratogymna elata), a range-restricted species and one of three species that accounted for 66% of online trade in hornbills, despite being classified by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction. Photo by Ndjounguep, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Although Cameroon Decree 73/658 legally regulates the carrying of firearms and ammunition, firearms are widely used by hunters in the Mont Nlonako area, who reported targeting any animal that could be sold. Hunter interviews revealed that many were aware that they were engaged in illegal activity with potential legal consequences. Hunters also indicated that hornbill hunting has declined over the past two years due to the drastic reduction in their populations and that consequently, hunters are compelled to venture into other localities in search of hornbills to hunt. African hornbills are not typically categorized as luxury products such as elephant ivory, and thus are subject to fewer trade regulations. Our findings highlight the urgent need to address the negative impacts of international wildlife trade and implement measures to protect African hornbill populations from increasing threats of overexploitation.

Female Black-casqued Hornbill, a species that has been largely eliminated from Nigeria and Ghana due to habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting.

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