Conservationists struggle to prevent the Philippine hornbill from becoming extinct
In five years, another species of Philippine hornbill will be extinct.
The prediction was made by conservationist Dr. William Oliver, director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc.
“It is inevitable… It is really a depressing scenario,” said Oliver during the opening of the Sixth International Hornbill Conference at the Ayala Museum on Wednesday.
“The future can be secured given sufficient effort, given sufficient priority and a load of other things. But it is absolutely inevitable that a large percentage of that stuff [species] has to go. [It] just has to happen,” he added.
Alarmingly, the extinction of a hornbill sub-species is not new to the Philippines, after recording the first known hornbill extinction. Among the world’s 57 hornbill species, the Ticao Tarictic, a subspecies of the Visayan hornbill found only in Ticao Island in Masbate, is considered extinct.
“We missed our boat on the Ticao [hornbill],” said Dr. Juan Carlos Gonzalez, zoologist and professor at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. “But we did well on the Cebu Flowerpecker… We have to work on those second chances to make it work.”
The Cebu Flowerpecker was presumed extinct until it was rediscovered in 1992.
“We have to be optimistic about it. They’re still there. There’s still a chance with other species. And more people out there are becoming aware about wildlife,” Gonzales noted.
Hornbills are an eye-catching bird species with noticeably large, colorful beaks. This also makes them attractive as a pet.
There’s a misconception that these birds come from Africa. But according to the tally of the conference organizer Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, 16 percent or 10 of the world’s hornbill species can be found only in the Philippines.
Unfortunately, these endemic birds are all considered endangered, with two species - the Sulu hornbill and the Rufous-headed hornbill - categorized as critically endangered.
The biggest threat to hornbills? Habitat loss, according to Gonzalez.
Hornbills, which can only be found in Asian and African countries, depend heavily on primary forests to survive. And with the country’s dwindling forest cover, the hornbills’ chance to survive also declines.
“It is a rule of thumb that if you lose 95 percent of your forest, you lose 50 percent of your species,” Oliver noted. He cited Mindoro island, which has lost about 93.5 percent of its forest cover, as an example.