Will the Philippines become a hornbill graveyard?

Dr. William Oliver

British conservationist Dr. William Oliver, director of Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc (PBCFI), believes another species of Philippine hornbill will become extinct within the next five years.

Oliver, a frequent visitor to Bacolod as the PBCFI is a partner of the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation (NFEFI), made the prediction at last week’s International Hornbill Conference in Makati.

“It’s inevitable and it’s depressing,” he said “But, with sufficient effort the future can be secured if enough priority is given to these magnificent birds. Having said that I don’t hold out a lot of hope for a large percentage of that species.”

Oliver stressed that the extinction of a hornbill sub-species was not new to the country.

Visayan tarictic hornbill

“Among the world’s 57 hornbill species, the Ticao Tarictic, a subspecies of the Visayan hornbill found only on Ticao Island in Masbate, is considered extinct,” he added

Dr. Joanne Justo, curator of the NFEFI’s Biodiversity Conservation Center (BCC) in Bacolod City said that hornbills are an eye-catching bird species with noticeably large, colorful beaks. Unfortunately for them, this makes the birds attractive pets.

“But the biggest threat to hornbills is habitat loss. They depend primarily on forests to survive and with the country’s dwindling forest cover, the hornbill’s chance of survival also declines,” she said.

Oliver added: “It’s a rule of thumb that if you’ve lose 95 per cent of your forest, you lose 50 per cent of your species.”

He noted that Mindoro has lost more than 93 per cent of its forest over.

Mining is also a threat to hornbills as mining companies use vast forest areas for their operations.

Oliver said there is no one-size fits all solution to hornbill conservation. But added that awareness of the problem is a positive first step.

The Rufous-headed hornbill

“We need to get more people in the Philippines to be aware that this country is endowed with a huge diversity of hornbills. Not only are they beautiful birds, they also perform a valuable ecological services such as seed dispersers.”

In the Western Visayas the Rufous-headed hornbill (Aceros waldeni) is considered one of the most threatened hornbill species in the world. It is only known or presumed to occur only in three islands – Panay, Negros and Guimaras.

The other species of hornbill found in Negros is the Visayan Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides panini).

NFEFI’s Biodiversity Conservation Center at the Provincial Lagoon is home to many threatened animals and birds including three species of hornbills. Members of the public can see these remarkable birds as well as other rare and endangered animals including warty pigs, spotted deer and leopard cats at the BCC from Mondays to Saturdays.