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Police bust 2 men selling hornbills on Indonesian Facebook

An oriental pied hornbill. Image by Matthew Kenwrick via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • The online trade in hornbills is on the rise, a monitoring group says.
  • The birds are widely hunted for their large casques and also sought as pets.

Police in Indonesia’s Banten province arrested two men who were using social media to sell dozens of hornbills, an iconic bird under threat from habitat loss and poaching.

Didin Hendriana, 35, procured the birds, buying them from people living near Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Java, and Luki Hamjah, 20, was in charge of selling them, according to Fajar Mauludi, the head of the Pandeglang Police’s criminal investigation unit.

Police confiscated 13 adult and seven baby oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) and three adult and two baby wreathed hornbills (Aceros undulatus), as well as 11 common hill mynas (Gracula religiosa), from the two men.

The traffickers had set up a Facebook account, “Ca Pets,” to sell the birds as pets, and were also hawking them over WhatsApp.

They bought the birds for about $15-20 each and sought to sell them for twice as much, Fajar said.

Some of the birds confiscated from the two men in early November. Image courtesy of IAR Indonesia.

The trafficking of hornbills in Indonesia is rampant, with the illegal trade moving increasingly online, according to Rangkong Indonesia, a hornbill conservation group.

From January 2017 to August 2021, Rangkong Indonesia identified 51 cases of hornbills being sold online.

Sixty-five percent of those cases involved social media — almost always Facebook and Instagram — and the rest involved e-commerce sites Tokomedia, Bukalapak and Shoppee.

A little over half of the cases saw live hornbills being offered as pets — these tended to be wreathed hornbills — while the rest were for their body parts. Some hornbill species have been hunted to the brink of extinction for their distinctive ivory-like bill casques, which are prized by collectors in parts of Asia.

Read more: Malaysian hornbill bust reveals live trafficking trend in Southeast Asia

Fifty-one percent of the sales occurred in Java, 37% in Borneo, 4% in Sulawesi, 2% in Sumatra, with the rest unknown.

“The hornbill is a beautiful bird — its large beak makes it unique,” Rangkong Indonesia founder Yokyok Hadiprakarsa said.

Read more: Hornbill heroes: A conversation with a top Indonesian bird conservation NGO

A wreathed hornbill in the Indonesian part of New Guinea. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.

Hornbills are found throughout Indonesia, on all five of its biggest islands — Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Sulawesi and New Guinea.

The birds play an important role in tropical rainforests, regurgitating and defecating the seeds from foods they consume.

“Protecting the hornbill in nature means we are also protecting the forests and their carbon reserves,” Yokyok said.

Banner image of an oriental pied hornbill, by Matthew Kenwrick via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesian site on Nov. 10, 2021.

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