Significance to humans

Like many other groups of birds, hornbills are hunted for food and consumed for medicine. In Africa, parts of the ground-hornbill are eaten to improve health and sagacity, whereas in India, the great hornbill, the Indian pied hornbill, and the Indian gray hornbill are rendered into oils that supposedly aid in childbirth and relieve gout and joint pains. In Indonesia, the meat of the Sumba hornbill is roasted and eaten to relieve rheumatism and asthma. Because they are easily tamed, hornbills are captured and traded for pets or exhibition. Unlike any other group of birds, however, hornbills play special roles in the folklore and ceremonies of the countries where they occur. Long, elegant tail feathers are the most sought-after hornbill part, but heads and casques are also coveted. The Nishis people of Arunachal Pradesh, India, attach the upper beak of the great hornbill to rattan bopiah caps as traditional male headgear. Neighboring Wanchos of eastern Arunachal use the warm, chestnut-colored neck feathers of rufous-necked hornbills to cover caps. On Borneo, the helmeted and rhinoceros hornbills reach mythical proportions in the eyes of the local inhabitants. The helmeted hornbill, in particular, is strongly associated with headhunting. C. Hose, an early twentieth century naturalist and explorer, reported that only someone who has taken a human head is allowed to wear the intricately carved earrings created from the "ivory" of the helmeted hornbill casque, or to adorn themselves with the bird's long, central tail feathers. Helmeted hornbills are also believed to judge souls leaving their mortal existence.

Today, hornbills are increasingly highlighted as local mascots or state birds. This is especially true in Asia. The great hornbill is the state bird of Arunachal Pradesh, northern India. The rhinoceros hornbill has been adopted as the state bird of Sarawak, Malaysia, where it appears on tourism advertisements, T-shirts, and even the state coat-of-arms. In Indonesia, the helmeted hornbill, the Sulawesi red-knobbed hornbill, and the Sumba hornbill proudly serve as official mascots for three provinces.

Mascot Hornbill

1. Sulawesi red-knobbed hornbill (Aceros cassidix); 2. Sumba hornbill (Rhyticeros everetti); 3. Silvery-cheeked hornbill (Bycanistes brevis); 4. Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil); 5. Great hornbill (Buceros bicornis); 6. Monteiro's hornbill (Tockus monteiri); 7. Red-billed hornbill (Tockus ery-throrhynchus); 8. Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini); 9. Plain-pouched hornbill (Rhyticeros subruficollis); 10. Southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri). (Illustration by Joseph E. Trumpey)

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