Our history with the Helmeted Hornbill and the birth of a baby

There are 8 species of hornbills in Indonesia’s Borneo. 7 are heavily threatened or endangered and 1, the Helmeted Hornbill, is a step away from extinction. All 8 can be found in the nature reserve we’re working in to protect.

This, sadly, isn’t a unique situation anymore; many species all over the world are at risk of disappearing and most share an unfortunate and difficult to swallow commonality. They’re facing extinction because of human impact.

The Helmeted Hornbill is no different. Stop us if you’ve heard this story before. The main culprits: deforestation and hunting.

We began working in the reserve in 2016 and have since been monitoring human activity in the area. As you can see via the infographic below tree cover loss grew exponentially in the years following 2010, with around 1000 hectares of forests lost each year in the few years before we began our programs. This leaves the birds with less nesting opportunities, food sources and a smaller home.

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More devastatingly for the species has been Asia’s obsession in having the birds heads as an ornamental proof of wealth. The demand has decimated the population.

The cream coloured keratin filled casque on the top of a Helmeted Hornbill skull carries a price three to five times higher than elephant tusks. It has been estimated that in 2013, 6,000 were killed in West Kalimantan alone and it is those kinds of hunting practices that caused the species to leap from near-threatened to critically endangered in a span of a few years.

But at Planet Indonesia we don’t believe all’s lost for these incredible birds and their homes. If humans are causing the damage, maybe we can change that too.


In March and May this year, 5 of the villages we work with east and west of the nature reserve made an inter-village declaration and an official statement to the government that they would stop hunting hornbills and start protecting them.

That’s one of the highest forms of protection you can offer a natural resource or species in Indonesia. Before we began engaging with them the villages openly hunted the Helmeted Hornbill and there was little incentive to stop. 

The declaration was achieved with the use of our model. We create Conservation Cooperatives (CCs) which are community-based organizations that aim to drive positive change both for local communities and the environment. When individuals join these organisations, they receive important business, education, and health services. In exchange, these CCs act as the vector for conservation management strategies that is then implemented by community members.

In many cases, such as our project site where the Helmeted Hornbill is found, the land was stolen from Indigenous Communities in the 1980s and forcefully turned into a government Protected Area.

Our CCs act as the main platform where we can help Indigenous Communities restore a sustainable relationship with their environments so they can, once again, regain management or co-management of their natural resources, forests, and wildlife in a way that will benefit them for generations to come.

Through our partnerships, we also point out the symbiotic relationship the villages have with the forests to allow the local people to come to their own realisation of the immense intrinsic and value in keeping populations alive.

Essentially, we offer services and training which allows the community members to avoid having to resort to damaging the environment for financial gain and stability.

We have seen a dramatic shift. The community members began to see things through the lens of “what we have here is very unique and special and we want to protect it.”

 Within the first year of working with the villages we saw a 35% decrease in GLAD alerts, which are data points that show forest disturbances by humans, from 11,000 to 7,500. For 2018 so far, we’ve found a 57% decrease in illegal deforestation and forest clearing.

Although 2 years is not long-enough to define a trend, we believe the preliminary data and the data we continue to collect shows that Planet Indonesia’s programs are resulting in less deforestation and land clearing.

The ultimate goal, will be to see if forests began returning in areas where they have been lost, and wildlife populations, like the helmeted hornbill, begin growing.

It’s hopeful news for us and nothing signifies hope more than the arrival of a newborn.

Which brings us to some exciting news. We have a baby.


“I heard a male Helmeted Hornbill’s call from a distance of about 300m from camp 1.” Rikardus Samabat, our biodiversity team member recalled.  

“I rushed to prepare a backpack and a camera and started to trek towards the voice.

“I searched for around 30 minutes guided by the bird’s voices before I found the female pecking and clearing at a hole about 30 meters high on a tree that would become their nest.

“Not long after, the male also came to perch on the nest. I was so happy and I felt like the luckiest person in the world to see such a rare sight.”

Rikardus called the head office shortly after the discovery and since then our Wildlife Protection Units (WPUs) and biodiversity teams have been working with the villages to protect the Helmeted Hornbills and their nest from poachers. 

That was 8-months ago.

We can’t wait to share the details of this journey with you. Follow our social media here and sign up to our e-newsletters below to see what it took to ensure the safety of our Helmeted Hornbill baby as we reveal the blood, sweat, tears and excitement.

Adam MillerComment