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Where have all the hornbills gone? IBCP to join hornbill symposium at IOC 2022

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

11 August, 2022

The White-crested Hornbill is found only in and near West and Central African rain forests. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


On the front lines of the current global extinction crisis are members of the spectacular hornbill family (Bucerotidae), which comprises 62 species in African and Asian tropical forests. Over 40% of hornbill species are listed as threatened or near-threatened with extinction by the IUCN, and the population ecology and trends of many non-listed species are poorly known. IBCP will join a symposium at the upcoming International Ornithological Congress (IOC) entitled, “Contrasting the challenges and opportunities for hornbill conservation biology in Africa and Asia.” Organized by Dr. Lucy Kemp of South Africa’s Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, the symposium will take place next Tuesday, August 16th, from 15:00-17:30 South African time. Two hours of presentations will be followed by half an hour of discussion, questions, and answers. All are welcome! You must be registered for the IOC to participate.

Presentation titles and speakers are as follows:

· Hornbill research and conservation in Africa – the long-term perspective - Lucy Kemp

· Hornbill research and conservation in Asia: knowledge, challenges and the future - Aparajita Datta

· The third realm: the role of ex situ conservation and hornbills in the one plan approach - Jessica Lee

· Conservation status of hornbills in West Africa - Nico Arcilla

· Hornbill research: challenges and opportunities in West African regions - Selasi Dzitse

· The Helmeted Hornbill crisis: Are we done yet? - Yokyok Hadiprakarsa

The Piping Hornbill (Bycanistes fistulator) declined by 85% in Ghana between 1990 and 2009. Photo by Lars H. Holbech.


Recent surveys in West Africa have shown the devastating effects of uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction on wildlife, including hornbills. Hornbills are hunted for food, for commercial sale as bushmeat, and for their casques, which are sold for use as ornaments, curios, and traditional magic. IBCP’s Nico Arcilla will present the results of surveys conducted for the nine forest hornbill species known to Ghana. Of the eight species we documented in our surveys, six of them had significantly declined between 1990 and 2014. Across the region, hornbill encounter rates declined by 39–88%, and the larger hornbills vanished from most forests.


The two most widespread and abundant species, the White-crested Hornbill (Horizocerus albocristatus) and African Pied Hornbill (Lophoceros fasciatus), demonstrate some flexibility in their ability to persist in forest-farmland mosaic landscapes rather than rain forests alone. White-crested Hornbills’ smaller size and comparatively cryptic behavior and smaller size may make them less targeted by hunters, whereas African Pied Hornbills showed significant declines, suggesting their resilience to hunting and habitat loss should not be overestimated

African Pied Hornbills are able to persist in partly deforested landscapes, but still declined significantly over the 24 years of our study. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


Small remnant populations of Ghana’s four largest hornbill species appear to survive mainly or only in wildlife protected areas with anti-poaching patrols (Kakum National Park, Ankasa Resource Reserve, Bomfobiri Wildlife Sanctuary). Kakum had the highest number of hornbill species (six), and the hornbill encounter rate in Kakum was approximately twice that of all other forests surveyed. Ongoing hornbill declines in both Ghana’s protected forests and wildlife protected areas signal urgent need for conservation action. Increasing support for anti-poaching patrols in wildlife protected areas would help protect surviving hornbill populations as well as other wildlife, preventing impending extinctions.


Hiring and placing local wildlife guards in Ghana’s protected forests, as is already done in Ghana’s wildlife protected areas, would curb illegal hunting and habitat destruction by investing in training, supervision, and much-needed rural employment. Updating the IUCN conservation status of hornbill species exhibiting steep declines would help bring more attention to these magnificent birds.

The Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) is one of many beautiful species that may be found in African woodland savannas. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

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