HORNBILL RESEARCH FOUNDATION AND NEST ADOPTION PROGRAM
A Project of Woodland Park Zoo's Partners for Wildlife
About the Project
Hornbills are the builders of rainforests, consuming a variety of fruit and then dispersing the seeds throughout the forest. Because of the important ecological niche they occupy, hornbills are considered a keystone species. As forests are cleared for agricultural uses and illegal logging, these magnificent birds are increasingly under threat. Woodland Park Zoo has had a long relationship with Dr. Pilai Poonswad, a hornbill researcher in Thailand who founded the Hornbill Research Foundation (HRF). A Rolex and Chevron Conservation Award winner for her conservation work, Dr. Poonswad has established the Budo Hornbill Conservation and Education Center as a focal point of HRF’s work.
The center gathers researchers, teachers, students and others interested in order to study the needs of the birds and their habitat, guide educators with curriculum on how to teach about hornbill and forest ecology, and teach students about the actions they can take to save hornbills and their habitat. The program also instills local awareness of the economic value of hornbills by employing local villagers as field assistants, part-time educators and guides, including monitoring a stable population of hornbills by minimizing any habitat disturbance and protecting nest cavities and food resources.
Partners Combine Efforts to Create New Program
In 2011, Woodland Park Zoo Partners for Wildlife converged on the Seattle area for a conservation summit, leading to a unique partnership between HRF and Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation. Currently, eight hornbill species occur in Borneo, and all of these are still found in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain in Sabah, Malaysia. The status and trends of these hornbill populations are largely unknown, however due to rapid landscape changes such as habitat degradation and fragmentation caused by timber extraction, forest conversion to agriculture, human penetration and other destructive activities, the assumption is there may be recent and/or drastic population declines. A rapid assessment of the habitat and hornbill populations was performed by members of the Thailand Hornbill Project in 2012, and it was determined that Hutan should institute conservation measures to protect and/or increase these populations. A complete proposal for a Hutan Hornbill program was proposed in 2013, based on this collaborative work and exchange of knowledge and expertise.
There are 54 hornbill species ranging from the African ground hornbills to the colorful and dramatic hornbill species of Southeast Asia. Because the female depends on the male to provide food for her and the nestlings, courtship occurs throughout the year in order to build and maintain strong pair bonds. The male and female invest much time developing this bond and it is to their advantage to remain together, year after year, returning to the same nest site to breed and raise their young, delicately navigating the potential for loss of habitat and food resources.
In the Field
The Hornbill Research Foundation works to help the people who share the habitat with the hornbills. HRF creates income for local villagers through hornbill nest protection, monitoring jobs and handicraft sales at the Budo Education Center and at select US zoos. The Foundation provides educational opportunities to the local communities at the center and acts as a resource for local schools, teachers, and villagers through on-going camps, teacher training, art contests, and eco-tour training programs. Because of continued unrest in the area, expansion of the outreach and employment programs proceeds slowly.
At the Zoo
The Hornbill Research Foundation’s Nest Adoption Program is managed at Woodland Park Zoo by keeper Eric Kowalczyk. He solicits funds for protection of the nests of wild hornbills in southern Thailand’s Budo National Park. More than 250 nests have been adopted since the zoo entered the program in 1999, protecting many pairs of hornbills and also employing villagers as “nest guardians,” some of whom formerly relied on raiding hornbill nests for the illegal pet trade. Kowalczyk is also the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Population Management Plan manager and studbook keeper for Aceros hornbills.
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