And when you say the words hornbills and Peninsular Malaysia, you might, half of the time, get a puzzled look, showing that many people are unaware of these continental hornbills. Much less that there are 10 species that call the peninsula home, two more than those found in Borneo:
• Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros)
• Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil)
• Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)
• Black hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus)
• White-crowned hornbill (Berenicornis comatus)
• Bushy-crested hornbill (Anorrhinus galeritus)
• Wreathed hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus)
• Wrinkled hornbill (Rhyticeros corrugatus)
• Great hornbill (Buceros bicornis)*
• Plain-pouched hornbill (Rhyticeros subruficollis)*
*not found on Borneo
There are 57 species of hornbills identified globally, with 25 found on the African continent and 32 distributed across 19 Asian countries. Peninsular Malaysia’s 10 marks the second highest diversity in the region, tied with Myanmar and the Philippines, and below only Thailand and Indonesia with 13 species each. Hornbills in Malaysia are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from coastal mangroves to the hill/submontane forests. The most common and adaptable species, the oriental pied hornbill, can be encountered not only in mangrove and lowland forests, but also in agricultural land and orchards.
Nearly half of Asia’s hornbills are threatened with extinction, with declining populations owing to habitat loss and degradation, poaching and hunting. The helmeted hornbill, one of the most enigmatic species in this region, had its IUCN Red List of Threatened Species status upgraded in 2015 from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered, owing to intense poaching pressure in Indonesia for its casque.
Hornbills in Malaysia face similar, though less severe, perils, with habitat loss and degradation being the primary threats across the country. In East Malaysia, the situation is compounded with the threat of poaching/hunting, as hornbills are totally protected in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak under the respective wildlife laws, but permitted to be hunted under strict conditions in Sabah.
MNS and Hornbill Conservation
• Established the hornbills’ breeding/non-breeding periods in Belum-Temengor Forest Complex.
• Located more than 80 nests of eight hornbill species (out of 10) in the forest landscape. The most common are the oriental pied, bushy-crested and rhinoceros hornbills.
• Identified at least eight tree species used as nest trees: Koompassia malaccensis, K. excelsa, Intsia palembanica, Hopea odorata, Shorea spp., Dysoxylum grande, Tetrameles nudiflora and Terminalia bellirica from five families (Dipterocarpaceae, Leguminosae, Meliaceae, Tetramelaceae and Combretaceae). All nest trees discovered measure at least 250cm in girth at breast height (GBH).
• Developed the innovative HB-IRD (Hornbill Breeding Improvised Recording Device) with a technology company to remotely monitor active breeding hornbills at their nest tree. This is a first for hornbill conservation in Malaysia, and possibly for forest monitoring of hornbills in Asia.
Findings for plain-pouched hornbills include:
• The species visiting BTFC annually in varying population numbers based on monitoring efforts at Kampung Tebang, Temengor Forest Reserve. The visitation patterns seem to alternate between high and low throughout the years.
• The highest count ever recorded in a single session was some 3,200 individuals in 2008.
• Documented feeding on emerging mayflies (belonging to the order Ephemeroptera) on several occasions in Kampung Tebang during dawn, possibly a new feeding behaviour. [Note: this behaviour was not seen after the Pos Chiong bay became silted.]
• Noted using several types of trees to rest, prior to and after emerging from their night roost(s).
• Suspected of roosting south of Temengor. However, it was discovered in 2010 that they could also be roosting in the upper reaches of Sungai Temin (Royal Belum State Park).
• Noted to feed on several kinds of fruits including strangling figs (Ficus spp.).