Above: demand for helmeted hornbills’ solid bill casques has increased in recent years. It is carved and used as an alternative to elephant ivory, particularly in China and increasingly in other Asian markets. Photo: Muhammad Al Zahri


HUNDREDS OF HELMETED hornbills (Rhinoplax vigil) and other hornbill parts are being offered for sale on Thai social media, a shocking study has revealed.

Results of the research, which involved a six-month online survey, were released on August 27 to coincide with the 18th conference to the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP18).

The survey found a minimum of 236 online posts offering a minimum of 546 hornbill parts and products in 32 of the 40 groups surveyed on Facebook – posted over a period of 64 months, spanning June 2014 to April 2019.

“This is the first systematic study providing evidence that the trade in helmeted hornbill parts and products exists in Thailand – a range state and outside previously documented open trade in China and Lao PDR,” said Maethinee Phassaraudomsak, TRAFFIC’s lead author of the report.

Trade in this species has risen over the past decade, particularly in China and increasingly in other Asian markets, and is driven by demands for its solid bill casque.

Online research for the study commenced in October 2018 but TRAFFIC researchers observed that posts offering helmeted hornbills went as far back as 2014, with peaks recorded in 2016 and 2018, ranging from 162 to 171 individual helmeted hornbill products offered for sale. More recent checks on social media last month showed that helmeted hornbill products were still being offered.

While a number of Facebook pages and posts have since been deleted, continued monitoring and investigations in these and other groups are important to ascertain the status of the online trade in helmeted and other hornbills in Thailand.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, co-author of the report, added: “Our years of monitoring online trade clearly show that when posts are taken down, trade activity simply resumes after a brief lull when traders lay low to avoid detection.”

TRAFFIC urges Thai authorities and Facebook to continue their vigilance and work closely to develop joint strategies to track and tackle online trafficking.

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