Hornbill couple released back into central Vietnam wild

By Ngoc Thanh   August 22, 2023 | 06:46 am PT
Hornbill couple released back into central Vietnam wild
A pair of hornbill birds about to get back to nature at Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park in central Vietnam, August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
A pair of hornbills were released back into their natural habitat at Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park on Monday four years after being rescued.

They are two of four hornbills that were transferred to the Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center by police in the northern Quang Ninh Province on April 5, 2019.

One of them was an adult bird weighing more than 2 kg and the remaining three were only about two months old and weighed 0.8 kg each.

Hornbills are a family of bird found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia.

They belong to group IB, which is strictly prohibited to be used for commercial purposes, according to Vietnamese regulations.

Many areas in Vietnam still have wild hornbills, but increasing illegal trade has put the species at risk of extinction, according to Luong Xuan Hong, director of the Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center.

On the black market, it is reported that hornbill birds are illegally sold for VND30 million (US$1,255) per adult bird.

The Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center is taking care of 15 adult hornbills, all of which have been seized from illegal wildlife traders over the years.

Since 2018, scientists and animal experts have been working on a project to release them back into the wild following criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Since having the idea, the Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center and animal welfare consultants from the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation have started to gather experts and organizations from around the world to develop a plan.

By the end of 2021, the preparatory steps for a protection project were completed, with the participations of many units such as Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, Animals Asia, Four Paws Viet, the U.S.’s Nashville Zoo, Bronx Zoo and Attica Zoo, the Singapore Zoo, the Nabula Roselle Project based in South Africa, the Thai Royal Rose Research Fund and a group of experts from the IUCN.

Seven birds that are of reproductive age and good health were selected for the project.

The ideal way to release birds is to pair one male and one female, let them live together before putting them back into the wild. A cage of about 20 sq.m was built at the Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center. There, the staff of Animals Asia monitor and assess the health status of the seven chosen birds. After a while, two birds, one male and one female, were selected.

For the next steps, experts evaluate their physical and productive health one more time to ensure that they could have the ability to live in the wild on their own and give birth.

On November 20, 2022, the hornbill couple was taken on a trip of more than 500 km from Hanoi to Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park in the central province of Quang Binh.

The park was chosen because it is well protected and has a diverse flora and fauna ecosystem.

In particular, there is a small natural community of hornbills already living there so the couple could stand a better chance against the antagonistic elements of their new home in nature. The main food of this species is fruit, insects and small animals. The best time to release them is from May to August, because this is the ripe fruit season.

The couple will kept under surveillance for four months.

After that, they will be checked again to make sure they are still healthy.

The project, costing VND400 million (US$16,735) in total, marks the first time Vietnam has released hornbills back into nature.

A couple of hornbill birds are about to leave their caged life in central Vietnam, August 2023. Video by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

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