China's Greed For Red Ivory Has Sent The Helmeted Hornbill Packing

China's been in the news quite a bit lately. From trade wars with President Trump to the origin and spread of Coronavirus, it's sent the stock market into a tumultuous downfall. But one story that's slipped under the radar is the potential extinction of the helmeted hornbill of Southeast Asia. This is due to China's desire for a coveted prize found in nature that sells exceedingly well in various markets throughout the Far East. 

Red Ivory

The desire for ‘red ivory’, which sells for three to five times the price of elephant ivory can sadly cause the extinction of this species. This can only be halted if and when animal advocacy groups and organizations disrupt the trade networks between its rainforest habitat origins to China's end markets.

For hundreds of years, the helmeted hornbill has been a prized bird species throughout Southeast Asia. Its unique, laughing call is one of the most recognizable sounds in the region’s dense jungles and forests. That feature alone is a reason to cease illegal trade practices. A single hornbill can fetch more than USD 1,000 on the black market in China.

Illegal Wildlife Trade Markets

Like elephant ivory tusks, items constructed from the beak (casque) of the helmeted hornbill, a tropical bird native to Southeast Asia, have become the latest red-shiny-thing. It's the must-have of many (both tourists and residents) in the world of illegal wildlife trading.

Although it has been listed in Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species) since the 1970s as illegal, the bird is much sought after on the black market. This statute is a source for species that are threatened with extinction.

The dramatic increase in the demand for hornbill ivory, combined with its diminishing forest habitats, has led to the helmeted hornbill’s categorization in 2015 on the IUCN's (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List as Critically Endangered, a species on the brink of extinction.

Is there Hope?

Recognizing that the species is in critical harm of extinction CITES Parties adopted a resolution at the CoP17 (the seventeenth session of the Conference of the Parties) in 2016 requesting increased efforts by range and consumer states.

That action-plan was supported at the recently concluded CoP18 (the eighteenth session) in Geneva. Range-wide and national action tactics are good first steps but much more is needed to be accomplished and urgently.

Destination states need to enhance legislation and enforcement controls. They should implement enforceable penalties and convictions to eliminate poaching and illegal trade along the entire trade chain.

Unlike the cross-continental sale of elephant ivory, the helmeted hornbill ivory trade is mostly limited to Southeast Asia and China. A shorter trade route with fewer destination countries is advantageous in improving effective law enforcement.

Pleading for Change

Madhu Rao, Regional Advisor for the Asia Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) noted in a Medium address: “Without a doubt, in the absence of bold and targeted action, it is only a matter of time before we witness the permanent loss of this magnificent species — an avoidable tragedy.”

All of us have a unique opportunity and a collective responsibility to ensure that the cackling laugh of the helmeted hornbill echos throughout Southeast Asia, loud and clear, well into the future. It's a clarion call to remind us all they need our help. Together, our compassion can overcome the vice of greed.

Please help protect this dwindling species. Individual donations are welcome here.

Primary Source: Medium