Myanmar’s great hornbills threatened by poaching, habitat loss

Yangon, Myanmar, Dec 17 (efe-epa).- Poaching and deforestation in Myanmar threaten the habitat of the great hornbill, a toucan-like bird highly sought after by illegal traders for its unique bill, environmental activists in the Southeast Asian nation warned Thursday.

The Burmese government declared the bird (Buceros bicornis) a protected and threatened species in March, but poachers are still hunting for the animal, which can reach a length of 130cm (51 inches) and weigh up to four kilograms.

A wildlife guide on Tuesday spotted a flock of 40 great hornbills in the southern region of Bago but warned that there were also poachers in the area. The announcement caused a stir on social media.

“It is very rare to see 40 great hornbills in the same place. It was a first for me. When I was watching them, I heard some gunshots,” Ya Min Aung, who spotted the poachers heading toward the area where the birds were, told Efe.

Great hornbills are hard to spot, as they usually inhabit thick and difficult to access areas of the jungle.

Ye Min Aung, who has been working as a bird-watching guide since 2016, said he alerted the authorities but expressed concern about the vulnerable status of the animals.

Thein Aung, from the Myanmar bird and nature association, said that the fact the animals are being sighted more frequently is evidence of a lack of food and good nesting areas.

He added that the department of environment and forestry appeared to focus more attention on the preservation of flora rather than fauna.

“I think the Burmese government should establish a department or ministry for wildlife with people prepared to protect vulnerable species.”

Thein Aung explained that the great hornbill was the national symbol of the Chin people, an ethnic group in the west of the country, and that the bird’s beaks and feathers are used in traditional ceremonies by the local communities.

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