Words and images by Lim Kim Chye
Fruits, especially figs, form the staple food of hornbills. Forest fruits do not ripen at the same time, hence hornbills require large tracts of forest in which to search for the scattered fruiting trees. Add this habitat requirement to their unique behaviour of nesting in the holes of large forest trees and one can understand why the survival of hornbills is so much dependent on good quality forests.
Most Malaysians know what a hornbill looks like and would be familiar with the Rhinoceros Hornbill, the tourism icon for Sarawak. However, not many realize that Malaysia has a significant number of the 31 species of hornbills occurring in Asia – we have 10 of them here – and even fewer are aware that all these 10 species can be found in Perak. Truly, Perak is the Land of Hornbills!
The hornbill hotspot in Malaysia is the Belum-Temengor forest complex in upper Perak. Sadly, just like all over the country, the forests of Belum-Temengor are facing threats. Logging, conversion to agriculture and over-development are impacting on its wildlife, including hornbills. Since 2004, MNS has been carrying out hornbill research in Belum-Temengor, with the objective of ensuring the continued survival of these flagship species.
In 2009, the MNS Hornbill Project was extended to the whole of Perak and the Branch was tasked by MNS Conservation Unit to take on the year-long project. In May last year, after a workshop on field identification of hornbills, members began visiting some 45 sites comprising forest reserves and recreational forests. In reality, the number of survey locations was much more as the larger forest reserves had several access points.
The Perak hornbill survey is the first time we are involved in a “citizen science” project on such a magnitude, involving training, field observation, data collection and reporting. So far, about 40 members and friends have participated, at various levels, in this project led by the Bird Group.
With just 3 months to go before the project ends in April 2010, we have only completed 18 sites, with several important forest reserves such as Korbu, Piah, Bujang Melaka, Bukit Kinta, Bukit Tapah and others not well-covered yet. It is hoped that greater efforts and more participation from members will help fill the gap in hornbill information for these sites.
If you would like to help in the hornbill survey or if you have recent information on hornbills anywhere in Perak (outside of Belum-Temengor), please contact the Bird Group Coordinator.