Asia
6 Aug 2019

Using education to build a grassroots hornbill conservation movement

Not long ago, communities living around Indonesia's Poayato Paguat forests hunted hornbills for food and used their casques as talismans and decorations in their homes. Today, these communities are on the frontline in the fight to protect these magnificent birds.

Knobbed Hornbill © Onrej Prosicky / Shutterstock
Knobbed Hornbill © Onrej Prosicky / Shutterstock
By Adi Widyanto, Burung Indonesia

Knobbed Hornbills are often found perching on banyan and palm trees around community gardens around Sulawesi, Indonesia, their colorful red and yellow casques standing out against the green of the leaves. Shy Sulawesi Hornbills, on the other hand, prefer staying close to the forest. Since 2012 though, both Knobbed Hornbill and Sulawesi Hornbill populations have been declining rapidly due to habitat loss, hunting and forest fires.

In the past, people from local communities surrounding the forests hunted hornbills using air rifles, since wild birds were part of their diet. Many community members also believed that hornbill casques could help prevent bad luck, while others used them as decorations for their homes. Although hunting wasn’t the only issue affecting hornbill populations in the area, it did contribute siginificantly to their decline. 

To address this, BirdLife Partner Burung Indonesia started its conservation education programme in 2014, focusing on villages that border the forest. Bringing together students, religious leaders, farmers and government officials, we ran a series of targetted presentations educating locals about the importance of Knobbed Hornbill Rhyticeros cassidix and Sulawesi Hornbill Rhabdotorrhinus exarhatus (both Vulnerable) as key species of Popayato Paguat forests. Through this programme, Burung and local communities agreed to designate sites for hornbill monitoring, mostly located at the edges of forests.  

One of the main reasons adult villagers changed their behaviours was because of pressure from their children

Our conservation education programme, alongside other community initiatives, has had a significant impact. Since 2016, six villages have stopped hunting hornbills and displaying their casques at their homes. One of the main reasons adult villagers changed their behaviours was because of pressure from their children, who criticised the practice and pointed out that hunting the birds was cruel. There was also widespread recognition of the important role that hornbills play in dispersing seeds and regenerating the forest. 

What started as a grassroots community based programme has grown into something much bigger. Members of local conservation groups are now actively engaging the broader community in hornbill protection and Burung Indonesia has been working at the provincial level to promote the importance of wider biodiversity conservation to the government, researchers and civil society.

We’re delighted that in March 2019, the provincial government of Gorontalo chose the hornbill as its tourism mascot. Our hope is that this will help to raise further public awareness about the urgent need to protect Knobbed and Sulawesi Hornbills.