The formation of the current HSG is a re-establishment of the earlier group that existed in the eighties under the IUCN SSC.

Dr. Alan Kemp (Transvaal Museum, RSA), (known as the father of hornbills) had formed an IUCN HSG in the early 1980s with a number of international zoo professionals. There was no internet and communication and information-sharing was difficult. Requests for funding for research/surveys were not successful.

However, with the technological advances facilitating communication that have occurred, and the emergence of a new group of dedicated hornbill experts in many range countries, there is now sufficient capacity for the re-establishment of a Specialist Group for Hornbills which can be a catalyst to mobilise cooperation and collaboration among researchers, government and civil society to support hornbill conservation and research.

There are 62 hornbill species in the world, with 32 in Asia and 30 in Africa. Currently, 26 out of the 62 species (40%) of hornbills are Globally Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction, with all other species listed as Least Concern, although some are poorly known. There are currently serious and escalating threats to both Asian and African hornbills, including habitat destruction and poaching, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines. Many taxa lack a global conservation strategy to address these threats.  The formation of the HSG with a united, established group of experts can help guide such processes.