Hundreds of parts of the critically endangered helmeted hornbill appeared for sale on Thai-language Facebook groups, according to a new report.
The helmeted hornbill is a large bird with a yellow, orange, and red helmet-like growth on its beak used like elephant ivory is for ornamental purposes. The bird is protected in all five countries it lives in, but poachers continue to kill the birds and sell their bills. A six-month survey by TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, found 40 Facebook groups where helmeted and other hornbill species’ parts were up for sale.
A helmeted hornbill (Photo: Arinaturephotography/TRAFFIC)
Helmeted hornbills inhabit the tropical forest of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. Scientists haven’t surveyed their populations, but estimates based on the density of birds per square kilometre, combined with habitat loss and the number of birds that show up in illegal wildlife trade, have earned it the critically endangered status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
While hornbill parts don’t often appear in physical shops, according to the report, they appeared all over Facebook. The TRAFFIC survey uncovered at least 236 Facebook posts offering 546 hornbill parts, including 94 entire heads, as well as pieces of jewelry and taxidermy. The posts comprised mostly helmeted hornbills, but some advertised parts of other hornbill species like the vulnerable great hornbill. Some sellers were based in countries with no hornbills, indicating that at least some of the sellers could have smuggled parts across border.would have smuggled the parts across borders, based on their location.
A Thai Facebook post advertising a hornbill head (Screenshot: TRAFFIC)
Facebook has since issued a policy that bans wildlife trade on the platform from business that aren’t verified, according to a press release. Since then, 35 of the 40 groups in the TRAFFIC survey are no longer active, though new posts continue to go up in the five remaining groups. TRAFFIC noted that sellers will often return after a period of downtime, or move to secretive spots online to hawk their products.
In response to a request for comment, a Facebook company spokesperson passed along the following statement:
“Facebook does not allow the sale or trade of endangered species or their parts, and we remove this material as soon as we are aware of it. We are committed to working with TRAFFIC to disrupt the sale of endangered animals and are a member of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.”
Hornbill casques form part of a larger issue of illegal wildlife trade online and on social media. A 2015 TRAFFIC report found illegal ivory trade flourishing online, especially on social media, while a 2018 report found 1,521 live animals for sale on 12 Thai-language Facebook pages. Wildlife trafficking continues to be an issue around the world for animals like elephants, rhinos, and pangolins.
TRAFFIC suggests reporting posts advertising illegal wildlife sale to law authorities, TRAFFIC, and Facebook. But the report also demonstrates that protecting the hornbills will require more cooperation between the countries involved and more rigorous monitoring online.
TRAFFIC released the report as part of the 18th Conference to the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora currently happening in Geneva, Switzerland.
Featured image: Screenshot: TRAFFIC