KUCHING: The helmeted hornbill, one of Sarawak’s iconic birds, is in grave danger of extinction.

Its population is believed to be rapidly declining, and Urban Development and Natural Resources Assistant Minister Datuk Len Talif Salleh says the bird is constantly under threat from poaching and illegal trade — all for its casque.

The casque (helmet-like structure on the head) accounts for some 11 per cent of its 3kg weight.

ENDANGERED … Helmeted hornbills are hunted for their high sales value.

Unlike any other hornbill, the casque is almost solid and is used in head-to-head combat among males.

Len Talif, who is also Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) chairman, said SFC would not tolerate any illegal wildlife trade or activities that contradicted the Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998.

“I was made to understand that the casque is extremely valuable…a single piece can fetch more than USD1,000 on the black market in China,” he said during SFC’s 16th anniversary dinner at a hotel here on Sunday.

“This year alone, we have conducted more than 60 wildlife operations, arrested 33 suspects, rescued 1,000 wildlife and opened 11 investigation papers, including the latest raid in Kapit.”

He said SFC enforcement teams confiscated 148 hornbill ivory pieces and other wildlife parts, while stressing the monumental scale of challenges faced by SFC in protecting wildlife.

“SFC has also conducted its CEPA (Conservation, Education, Public Awareness) programme to create awareness on wildlife protection.”

Abang Johari un Openg (centre) witnesses the exchange of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) through its chief executive officer Zolkipli Mohamad Aton (left) and the University of New South Wales by its representative Prof Darren Curneo (right).

On conservation efforts, he said Sarawak subscribed to international entities such as International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“We have acted swiftly to ensure significant work commences after the CITES and the helmeted hornbill workshop held in Piasau Nature Reserve, Miri on Feb 19, 2019.

“To date, we have conducted population study, active nest monitoring, plant phenology monitoring and cavity enhancement,” Len Talif explained.

He said all eight species of hornbills in Sarawak had been recorded and a total of four active nests were discovered, however, only three were actively monitored.

“A total of 12 phenology plots were established in Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary (LEWS) and 34 cavities were also repaired.”

Also present at the dinner were Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and his wife Datuk Amar Juma’ani Tun Tuanku Bujang, Urban Development and Natural Resources Ministry permanent secretary Datuk Zaidi Mahdi, SFC chief executive officer Zolkipli Mohamad Aton, Forest Department Sarawak director Datuk Hamden Mohammad and State Attorney-General Datuk Talat Mahmood Abdul Rashid.