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Artificial Beaks Helping to Save Hornbills from Extinction in India

Fern Davies

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Scientific American

For centuries the tribal Nyishi people in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh have worn the magnificent beaks of hornbill birds as a part of their traditional headgear, called pudum, which are considered a sign of manhood and tribal identity. Hornbills are the state birds of Arunachal Pradesh, but overhunting for pudum threatened all five resident species with regional extinction at the end of the 20th century. According to a recent article from Firstpost, forestry officials had almost given up hope on saving the birds, which were growing increasingly rare in the state.

But in 2000 Deputy Chief Wildlife Warden Chukhu Loma came up with an idea: fabricate synthetic hornbill beaks and offer them to the Nyishi for use instead of real beaks. He enlisted the aid of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and other organizations to manufacture and distribute the fiberglass beaks, which cost about 15 Rupees (30 cents) each.

At first the idea was not openly welcomed. The Telegraph reported in 2007 that Loma, a member of the Nyishi tribe, “drew the wrath of the tribal community” when he first proposed the artificial hornbill beaks.
But tribal elders quickly began to warm up to the fabricated beaks, and some tribal members even got involved with making them. In addition to wider distribution efforts by the WTI, Loma hands out the fiberglass beaks from his home, where tribal members can exchange real beaks for the synthetic ones after promising to spread awareness about the need to preserve the hornbills in the wild.

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