6 Aug 2019

Critically Endangered hornbill becomes community flagship for forest conservation

In the Philippines, the Rufous-headed Hornbill has been driven to the brink of extinction by hunting and deforestation. But thanks to a new project, it is celebrated among local people, and has kicked off a movement to restore the area’s forests.

Rufous-headed Hornbill © Haribon Foundation
Rufous-headed Hornbill © Haribon Foundation
By David Quimpo, Haribon Foundation

After two days of trekking through the mountains – across rivers, steep cliffs, and towering ridges – we reach the site, 741 meters above sea level. We are in the northern part of the Central Panay Mountains Key Biodiversity Area in Antique, Philippines. The trees of the montane forest grow dense around us, mostly undamaged by human activity.

Carefully, we began searching the trees around us for holes. If we are lucky, we might find a nest hole for one of the most elusive birds in the Philippines – the Rufous-headed Hornbill Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni. Known locally known as Dulungan, it is Endemic to the Panay and Negros Islands in Central Philippines, and is Critically Endangered.

The Dulungan is a victim of forest destruction and hunting. Its habitat has been severely deforested, and only 23% of the Philippines’ forest cover remain. With less forest to hide, the Dulungan is also more susceptible to hunters. The Haribon Foundation (BirdLife's Partner in the Philippines) has been working hard to educate local communities close to the Central Panay Mountains about forest and wildlife protection. In 2017, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines formed a partnership with the Haribon Foundation support Dulungan conservation.

Through this partnership we were able to train and deputise 22 forest guards to watch over the Dulungan and the biodiversity of the Central Panay Mountains. Local schools are now supporting the conservation of the species and students are implementing projects to reduce waste and develop tree nurseries to help restore the habitat of the Dulungan. As the flagship species of the provincial government of Antique, a local fete, the Madja-as Festival, celebrates the species. A locally managed protected area has been established by the local governments of Culasi and Sebaste with support from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

We are excited to hear the Dulungan's goat-like call ringing throughout the forest

As we trek through the wilderness, badgered by mosquitos and leaches, we are finally rewarded by seeing the fruit of these projects – a hole in a Tanguile tree. This isn’t just any hole though, it is the nest of a Dulungan. Blending in with our surroundings as best we can, we are excited to hear its goat-like call ringing throughout the forest. I ready my camera as the Dulungan flies into the open, nearing the nest hole. He spreads his black wings wide as he lands near the hole, his large orange bill clipping a seed which he will feed to his mate in the nest.

I watch the Dulungan as he moves. I know that improving the situation of the Dulungan and its habitat is still a way away. But I also know that local action by locals, for locals is a powerful means to sustain conservation efforts. The partnership with the National Grid Corporation and the support of the BirdLife Young Conservation Leaders Award will go a long way to improving our conservation of the Dulungan and its habitat. So as I watch the Dulungan take off again, it is with a feeling of hope for its future.

To find out more about their efforts to conserve the Rufous-headed Hornbill, please reach out to our colleagues at Haribon.