The Hornbill Conferences: A Brief History

After nearly two decades of studying hornbills in the wild of Thailand and South Africa and witnessing degradation of many natural habitats, Dr. Pilai Poonwad and Dr. Alan Kemp convened the first workshop on the conservation of Asian hornbills in Bangkok and Khao Yai National Park in April 1992.

The meeting was international, drawing experts and representatives from around the world. It was Asian in scope and dealt with hornbills in the region. The Proceedings, “Manual to the Conservation of Asian Hornbills”, edited by Pilai Poonswad and Alan C. Kemp, summarised the knowledge at that time and ideas of the participants. It also served as a milestone by which to measure progress until the next workshop.

The 2nd and 3rd workshops were again held in Thailand in Bangkok in April 1996 and in Phuket, in April 2001. The 2nd workshop focused on ecology and conservation and the 3rd on ecology, reproduction and populations. The Proceedings of the 2nd International Hornbill Workshop, “The Asian Hornbills: Ecology and Conservation” edited by Pilai Poonswad, was published in 1998. The Proceedings of the 3rd workshop, “The Ecology of Hornbills: Reproduction and Populations” edited by Shawn Lum and Pilai Poonswad was published in 2005.

After many years of covering just Asian hornbills, it was mooted that Africa with 25 species of hornbills should be included in the workshop. This resulted in the formation of International Hornbill Conference (IHC), and the 4th International Hornbill Conference was held in Mabula Game Lodge in Limpopo Province, South Africa on 6th to 10th November 2005. To save costs, the Proceedings, “The Active Management of Hornbills and their Habitats for Conservation” was produced in a CD format.

With the help of National Parks Board (Singapore), the 5th IHC was held in the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 22nd to 25th March 2009 with the theme “Challenges for the Future”. The 5th IHC was attended by 126 participants from 20 countries, mainly from South and Southeast Asia, a few from North America and Europe and just 3 from Africa. Three keynote, 45 verbal papers and 12 posters were presented during the conference.  The Proceedings of the 5th IHC was published in 2011 as a supplement of The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology edited by Geoffrey W.H. Davison and Cheryl S.W. Chia.

In 2010, Bee Choo presented the idea of hosting the 6th IHC to members of Wild Bird Club of Philippines during the Philippines Bird Festival, as Philippines has the greatest number of endemic hornbills in the world and 2 critically endangered hornbills. This proposal was welcomed and a committee was subsequently set up to facilitate it. The theme of the 6th IHC in Philippines was “Hornbills and Caring Communities; Helping Forests to Thrive” reflecting the integral relationships between hornbills and ecological communities and the role they play in ensuring the sustainability of forests and in providing ecosystem services. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, Hornbill Research Foundation (Thailand) and the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (PBCFI) organised and hosted the 3-day conference. The Opening Program of the Conference was held at the Ayala Museum with 3 keynote addresses, a relaunch of the Philippine Hornbill Conservation Program by PBCFI and launch of the new book “Hornbills of the World”. Following the opening program, there was an exhibit entitled “Hornbills Past, Present and Future?” featuring all species of hornbills in Philippines.

The 2nd and 3rd days of the conference attended by about 90 participants were held at Asian Institute of Management in Makati. Twenty-seven verbal presentations on various aspects of hornbill biology, ecology and distribution and in-situ and ex-situ conservation and four poster presentations were displayed. There was also a workshop on estimating abundance of hornbills on the last day of the conference. The Proceedings of the 6th IHC was published in was published in 2015 in the Malayan Nature Journal Vol. 67, No. 2 edited by Willem van de Ven, Chloe Tan and Yeap Chin Aik.

During the 6th IHC, staff of Sarawak Forestry Corporation expressed interest in hosting the 7th IHC in Kuching and submitted a proposal to Hornbill Research Foundation. Sarawak is called “Land of Hornbills”, however decades of deforestation and hunting have decimated most of the hornbills there. The Sarawak government is keen to ensure that their hornbills will survive for perpetuity there. The 7th IHC with the theme of “Hornbills; Fly Free, Fly High” was held at the Riverside Majestic Hotel in Kuching on 16th to 18th May 2018. Researchers from Southeast Asia, South Africa and the Indian subcontinent presented 36 papers on subjects varying from conservation, genetics, biology, ecology, husbandry, habitat fragmentation and connectivity to culture, tourism and awareness. The scientific committee is still reviewing and editing the papers presented and the Proceedings will be published by this year. Bhutan delegates proposed that they will host the 8th IHC in the year 2021 and it was accepted by the president and committee members of Hornbill Research Foundation.

Immediately after the 7th IHC, a 2-day Workshop on Range-wide Conservation Strategy and Action Planning for Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) was organised at Kubah National Park for 36 relevant stakeholders mostly from range states/countries. A report titled “Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil): Status Review, Range-wide Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2018-2027)” will be made available online by the IUCN Hornbill Specialist Group by the end of this year.

Bee Choo Strange

May 2018