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The story of the rhinoceros hornbill from Mount Tilu

The air began to feel warm, that morning. A 20-year-old youth is observing the trees on the west side of Mount Tilu, West Java. With a monocular and a tripod, he was looking for the presence of the rhino hornbill which usually perches in fig trees.

The Tilu Mountain Forest in Kuningan Regency, West Java, is a natural habitat for the rhinoceros hornbill. This protected forest area is under the management of Perum Perhutani KPH Kuningan.

Fahrul Shobarudin Syahban, that’s the name of this young man. He is a student at the Faculty of Forestry, University of Kuningan, who often observes this hornbill.

“I observe hornbills regularly every month. Data for 2022, there are 30 golden hornbills and 12 rhino hornbills,” he said last December.

He and his friends are avid bird enthusiasts. They routinely observe animals on Mount Tilu, especially the rhinoceros hornbill.

“For the [observation] method of concentration, focus on one point which is the gathering point for the hornbills. Usually it is the fig tree that is bearing fruit.”

The rhino hornbill threat 

The existence of the rhinoceros hornbill is threatened partly due to poaching and illegal trade. “As far as we have observed, in the last 10 years there has been a tendency for puppies to be sold illegally on social media to be raised,” said Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, founder and main researcher of Indonesian hornbills .

Fahrul also recognized hornbill hunting in the Mount Tilu forest. Prior to being active as an animal observer, he was a bird hunter.

“Initially, I became a hunter because I joined mamang. He used to go out and about in the forest to hunt birds. Not only songbirds, but also hornbills,” he said.

For Gunung Tilu, he said, most of the community hunted for rangkong not to sell but to eat.

Muhdin, a resident of Cimara Village, who lives at the foot of Mount Tilu, agreed with Fahrul’s words. He said local people catch hornbills mostly for consumption.

The first time he caught hornbills was around the 1980s. “About the 80s. It was time to go to the forest, looking for mushrooms. Then there was a squeaking sound , I know it’s a hornbill.”

At that time, he found a large fallen tree in the forest. As it turned out, the hornbill nested in that tree. There were two rhino hornbills, the mother and the baby, which he brought home. He cut the hornbill and Muhdin ate it with his friends. “It tastes like ducks, right,” recalled Muhdin.

He said, now finding hornet nests in Gunung Tilu forest is not as easy as it used to be. Wasromi, a resident of Cimara Village, said that rhino horn will only be found during the fig season.

“If it appears sometimes it’s the third month , the fourth month like that . When the tiara bears fruit. There must be something looking for food. If now it ‘s difficult.”

This middle-aged man, who is familiarly called Abah, said that nowadays not many people hunt hornbills anymore because finding nests is difficult.

“Many residents enter the forest, if they are here looking for mushrooms. It ‘s hard for hornbills to find nests now. If there is also hard to take. As soon as people passed by he ran away. His eyes are alert,” he said.

Based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, the status of the rhinoceros hornbill is currently threatened with extinction.

Forest farmer

In fact, according to Yokie, Yokyok Hadiprakarsa’s nickname, this bird has made a major contribution to forest regeneration. They are often called forest farmers because of their ability to spread forest plant seeds.

Efforts to conserve endangered species, such as the rhinoceros hornbill, are regulated by the government through Law No. 5/1999 concerning Conservation of Living Natural Resources and Their Ecosystems. However, this does not guarantee the safety of hornbills in nature.

“The challenge is not only the rhino hornbill but also the ivory hornbill whose position is more critical.”

He said, if there are violations against the perpetrators of illegal hunting and trade, law enforcement is still weak.

“Because the understanding of law enforcers is still limited (the punishment is too light). The deterrent effect is still lacking,” said Yokie.

Apart from poaching, logging and illegal encroachment on forest areas also threaten the existence of the rhino hornbill.

Depends on nature

The rhino hornbill or often called the hornbill, in Latin it is called Buceros rhinoceros , is a large bird reaching 110 cm. Feather predominately black. This species has the characteristic of a curved beak and a comb that bends upwards to resemble a reddish yellow horn.

Even though they are large birds and have sharp beaks, they are fruit eaters, especially the banyan species.

“Based on my research, this rhinoceros hornbill is close to 80% eating banyan fruit. That (banyan tree) only exists in good forests,” said Yokie.

The population of the rhinoceros hornbill in Indonesia, he said, is not yet known with certainty.

“The population trend in nature is decreasing. Because the rhinoceros hornbill only lives in the forest. As Indonesia’s forests decrease, it also impacts the population.”

On Mount Tilu, there are a number of contributing factors for the rhino hornbill’s existence. There, there are several types of ficus trees, which are food for hornbills. This plant bears fruit all year round.

“So, a habitat for hornbills to roost and find food,” said Ilham Adhya, lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry at Kuningan University to en, last December.

Based on studies from the Indonesian hornbill, in general there are two limiting factors for hornbills in nature. First, there are fewer nest trees in the forest. Second , the condition of the forest began to deteriorate causing the banyan trees as a source of food for the hornbills to decrease.

Hornbills, usually nest in tall trees and large diameters. They will nest in naturally formed tree holes. During the breeding process, the female hornbill will nest in the hole while incubating the eggs. During that time, it is also the male hornbill who will provide food and insert it into the nest hole of the female.

Another uniqueness of hornbills, he said, is that they are loyal to their partners until they die. If one of them dies because of hunters, the couple left behind will not look for a new partner.

I’m more aware of protecting the forest

The Gunung Tilu area was hit by a major flood in 2017. Large-scale tree-logging activities carried out by the community in the past have exacerbated the impact of floods and landslides.

“The activity (illegal logging) took a long time ago on Mount Tilu. This logging caused a pile of wood to be carried by an avalanche into the river,” said Ilham.

He said that since that incident, people have become more aware of how important it is to protect the forest. Not only does it exacerbate the impact in the event of a disaster, illegal logging also threatens the existence of the rhinoceros hornbill because there are fewer trees in the forest.

“This is a lesson for the community, there should be no logging. One of the hornbill’s main food is fig trees. These are called key species. When these (fig trees) are removed, or at least they don’t produce fruit, this will disrupt the sustainability of the forest.”

Fahrul also conveyed the same thing. As a student and at the same time the community living around Mount Tilu, he always invites the community to protect Mount Tilu.

“I’m slowly starting to realize that I need to protect Mount Tilu and urge people not to hunt anymore,” said Fahrul.

Currently, many residents around Mount Tilu are active in farming in the fields.

“Most (residents) go to the fields. Just working on paddy fields, while taking grass for (feed) the goats,” said Wasromi.

A number of parties have also invited the community around Mount Tilu to protect the forest together. As done by Kuningan University, conducting research involves the community.

“Like Fahrul for example. We collaborate to focus on researching hornbills and large mammals. He got a scholarship from Uniku to conduct observations,” said Ilham.

He also mentioned Ori, a resident of Cimara Village which houses around 15 people who dropped out of school to become millennial farmers.

“By forming forest farmer groups. We’ll help with the research.”

By equipping the people around Mount Tilu with agricultural knowledge, according to Ilham, it will make them no longer do hunting in the forest.

The people around Mount Tilu, said Ilham, currently have a high concern for the environment. They believe that the water is clear in the forest because the forest is still functioning properly. Most of the water sources in the forest, he said, are for irrigating the people’s agricultural land.

The forest with all its riches is the home of the rhino hornbill. As well as obtaining trees for nesting and fruit as a source of food, hornbills also help forests grow and produce new trees from the seeds they spread.

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