Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill parts readily available in Lao PDR
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 15:39
TRAFFIC in Birds, CITES, CoP17

Helmet: targetted for its solid casque © Muhammad Alzahri Johannesburg, South Africa, 29th September 2016—parts of a rare hornbill relentlessly hunted for its ivory and the source of rising conservation alarm, are readily available in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), a new TRAFFIC report reveals.

The Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil is neither found in Lao PDR, nor allowed in international trade. However, 74 of the hornbill’s casques and products made from the casques, were observed for sale in eight shops during an eight-day survey in three areas in the country.

Observations of the Helmeted Hornbill Rhinoplax vigil Trade in Lao PDR was released as representatives from more than 180 governments meet in Johannesburg for the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). During a pre-meeting, the role of Lao PDR in the international trafficking of protected wildlife came under scrutiny.

The report Observations of the Helmeted Hornbill trade in Lao PDR, (PDF, 4 MB) found the largest collection of 36 items in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remaining items were recorded in the city’s capital Vientiane and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone.  One shop in Luang Prabang alone accounted for 46% of all items recorded.  

The surveys, conducted between April and July 2016, found that beads and pendants carved from the casques were the most commonly observed items. Researchers also found 11 whole casques—the helmet like structure on the bird’s bill that is made of solid keratin and is highly prized by carvers and collectors.

“Seeing such a high volume of products from Helmeted Hornbills is simply unacceptable—it is a clear violation of CITES and domestic legislation,’’ said Kanitha Krishnasamy, co-author and Senior Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

The authors of the report have called upon Lao PDR to shut down this illegal trade and to increase vigilance at international airports and border-crossings to cut off any entry of this CITES Appendix-I listed non-native species into Lao PDR.  

To this end, the authors urged greater collaboration on investigations and enforcement between China and Lao PDR given the obvious links between the countries, including claims by all traders in Vientiane and Luang Prabang that they sourced their Helmeted Hornbill products from China.  

Since 2012, more than 2000 Helmeted Hornbill casques and other parts have been seized in the species’s stronghold of Indonesia and in China, the primary consumer country. Seizure records indicate that Western Kalimantan in Indonesia is being heavily targeted. Enforcement must be made a priority to tackle the organized crime networks involved in the trafficking of this species.

“We urge Lao PDR to protect the Helmeted Hornbill under its national legislation and establish a regulation system, within a set time frame, to allow enforcement action for such CITES listed species,” said Krishnasamy. Every shop that sold Helmeted Hornbill products also sold elephant ivory, each between 500-1000 ivory products.  

During the CITES meeting Indonesia is asking other governments for assistance in protecting Helmeted Hornbills. The Indonesian government submitted the proposal on the basis that the species continues to be hunted for trade despite its law enforcement efforts, including the arrest of poachers and traders.

In July 2016, the CITES Secretariat carried out a mission to Lao PDR, and subsequently made several strong recommendations.  Among others, this included the development of strong national and CITES-implementing legislation, which would enable action to be taken to shut this trade down and aid in the protection of the Helmeted Hornbill.

For further information, contact:
Dr Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC Global Communications Co-ordinator,, +27 076 657 7193 (in Johannesburg from 21/09) or +44 7921309176

Kanitha Krishnasamy
, Senior Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia,, +6012 2200819 (in Johannesburg), @kanithak_

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of IUCN and WWF.

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