While Rhinoplax vigil is hardly the most inspiring name, the merry and raucous hornbills are absolutely magnificent sights in fruiting trees in the rainforest. Among the species, this helmeted hornbill is possibly the most impressive, and one of the most valuable conservationists itself, as it spreads local tree seeds exclusively in some cases.. So it is with disappointment and several other emotions that we hear of the demise of not only habitat, but also the great birds themselves. Poached for their incredibly heavy casque (enlarged hornbill,) people are actually carving this helmet for luxury trinkets.
The home of this species has been restricted by habitat loss to lowland Sumatra and Borneo, with a sprinkling of birds in mainland Malaysia. The bird is listed as Appendix 1 by CITES, but is just achieving Critically Endangered status because of this illegal trade. Taipei, Macao and Jakarta and even Laos are taking the rap for selling the casque. We have noted this as the most endangered hornbill quite recently in our survey of illegal animal trading.
This seems to be an established industry, but popular appeal for netsuke in Japan, in China and elsewhere has increased, just as similar elephant ivory is still used there. Local extinction is certain, but the IUCN would probably disagree, as total loss of this species is highly likely. The Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society recorded 500 hornbills per month being poached in 2013, and 6000 a year in west Kalimantan (Borneo). Prices have steadily risen since 2012, too. Local authorities are seizing at least 1851 helmeted hornbill casques over a 4-year period. The result would be a total loss of >2000 birds in 5 years, but that is simply the tip of the iceberg. Chinese people seem to have been the buyers involved, visiting Indonesia to collect the bird parts.
The only real hope is in the Environmental Investigation Agency(EIA) and similar organisations who report on these crimes here and request very vigorous responses, such as heavy sentencing for these crime syndicates, effective enforcement of protection and increased awareness of what we have lost here. They give their account and source our photograph in the crime and governance section of their website.