The Conservation of Hombills in Captivity


"\ V Thile captive propagation has W ~layed a significant part in rescuing many endangered species such as the California Condor, the Bali Myna and the Guam Kingfisher, the sad fact is that we do not yet have sufficient knowledge to use captive propagation to rescue hornbills. Developing reliable husbandry techniques should be a top priority for all of us who are interested in horn bills. This is especially true for those species found in southeast Asia where they are severely threatened by massive loss of habitat.

To date, there has been little input from the private sector as to their progress towards the development of reliable hornbill propagation techniques. We urgently need to get together all the people with knowledge on the subject and pool the information. Until now, the private sector and zoological institutions have been working separately on these issues. Collaboration could produce more success and hopefully save some

species from extinction.

Large hornbills are among the most spectacular of zoo exhibits; however, they do not breed well in captivity. In fact, only five species of Asian hornbills have bred in zoological institutions in the United States, the Great Hornbill being one of them. Poor nesting success makes it imperative that more effective methods of captive propagation be developed.

This is where the private sector can make an important contribution! Here are the problems on which we need to work together:

(1 )Incomplete knowledge of nesting requirements.

(2)Incomplete knowledge of dietary needs.

(3)lncomplete knowledge of courtship and pair bonding cues.

( 4)No hand-rearing experience.

But problem solving alone is not enough: communicating with other individuals and institutions is also of the


utmost importance.

Hornbills have served humankind for centuries in myth and ritual throughout southeast Asia; they bring the rain for the crops in Borneo; they are the national bird of Sarawak; and their carved casques brought good luck to Chinese families for eons. And yet almost all large Asian hornbills are now seriously threatened by the logging industry which is taking away their nest sites. Recent articles tell the doleful story of the demise of the Malayan forests. Without the knowledge gleaned from captive propagation it is quite possible that these dramatic and special birds will become extinct in the wild.

The smaller African hornbills are neither as threatened in the wild nor as difficult to breed in captivity. However, their breeding strategy is similar to that of the Asian hornbills in which the female incarcerates herself in a nest hollow for several months while she incubates the eggs and raises the chicks. This makes the African species excellent candidates for breeders to work with to develop techniques that can then be applied to more endangered species.

One factor is known, and that is that the pair bonds are very important; however, the behaviors that indicate a potentially good pair are not. Another thing of known importance is the size of the nest opening as well as the placement of it in the nest log. In Thailand, Pilai Poonswad has been studying the nesting preferences of wild hornbills for ten years. She has found one shape that is chosen most frequently. Several zoos have redone the nest openings using this shape and have had immediate interest from pairs that had previously shown no nesting behavior.

Private sector breeding successes include endangered species like the Nene Goose, waterfowl in general and many pheasant species. They have also had excellent success with psittacines, most recently with parrotlets and lories as good examples.





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