Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hornbills – revered but endangered

THE rhinoceros hornbill is one of nine species of hornbill in Sarawak, all of which can be found in Mulu.

Hornbills are now totally protected species under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance (1998).

Totally protected species are defined as species in danger of extinction due to hunting and habitat destruction. Penalties for keeping one as a pet, killing, hunting, capturing, selling, trading or disturbing them, or possessing any recognisable parts of these animals are severe – a RM25,000 fine and three years’ imprisonment.

According to Ahmad Ampeng, there have not been any studies done in recent times to determine the population status of hornbills in Sarawak although it is widely accepted the birds are particularly vulnerable to forest destruction and logging activities.

Feasting mainly on fruits such as figs, they live primarily in secondary forests. During nesting season, the female hornbill will seal herself into a treehole with mud, where she will lay and incubate her eggs.

She will not leave the nest until her eggs are hatched, depending fully on her mate to bring her food which he passes to her through a small opening in the mud wall.

Mystical powers

While in general, all hornbill species are revered, the rhinoceros hornbill seems to hold a special place in most Sarawakian native cultures.

It is closely associated with the god of war and of bird-omens Singalang Burong, a significant figure in Iban legends and folklore. The festival of Gawai Burong is held in his honour.

Anglican author Eda Green noted in Borneo: The Land of River and Palm that Iban warriors would make a feast to him after taking the heads of their enemies.

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