Illegal trade seizures: Helmeted hornbills

The helmeted hornbill is the largest hornbill species found in Asia and is restricted mainly to the lowland forests of Sumatra, Borneo Peninsular Malaysia and the far south of Thailand, where it plays an important ecological role within its habitat, dispersing seeds for a number of plant species.

Helmeted hornbills have been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1975, prohibiting all international trade, but enforcement of the listing has been woefully inadequate.  

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species changed its conservation status from Near Threatened in 2012 to Critically Endangered in 2015 due to the surge in illegal trade in the hornbill’s distinctive casque and to habitat loss, causing rapid population decline. 

While the poaching of helmeted hornbills at a local level has long been documented, the current scale of poaching and international trade is unprecedented.  

Unlike other hornbills, the helmeted hornbill’s distinctive solid casque is in demand in Japan for netsuke (miniature sculptures) and in China as a material for carved luxury products such as jewellery and decorative ornaments.  

There has been a recent spike in documented sales of helmeted hornbill ‘ivory’ online and in known illegal wildlife market places, with prices increasing since 2012. 

Methodology of collecting data 

This map was produced in collaboration with TRAFFIC and plots all known publicly reported seizures and records of trafficked helmeted hornbill parts and products between 2010-17. It shows the locations of seizures and reported market observations between 2010-17, accounting for at least 2,800 helmeted hornbills – a fraction of the number killed for the trade each year. It also highlights key import and export hubs within China and Indonesia respectively and documents the involvement of Chinese nationals facilitating the trade in Indonesia.


This map was last updated in May 2017, due to capacity we don’t foresee updating this map in the near future.

Key takeouts   

  • The helmeted hornbill is the largest hornbill species found in Asia. 
  • It has been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1975, prohibiting all international trade.  
  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species changed its conservation status from Near Threatened in 2012 to Critically Endangered in 2015. 
  • The helmeted hornbill’s distinctive solid casque is in demand in Japan for netsuke (miniature sculptures) and in China as a material for carved luxury products such as jewellery and decorative ornaments.  
  • There has been a recent spike in documented sales of helmeted hornbill ‘ivory’ online and in known illegal wildlife market places. 
  • Seizures and reported market observations between 2010-17, accounting for at least 2,800 helmeted hornbills, a fraction of the number killed for the trade each year. 
  • The majority of seizures occur in or are attributed to China, highlighting its role as a major consumer country for helmeted hornbill casques.  
  • Markets in Laos offering hornbill casques appear to be catering to Chinese buyers. 
  • Chinese nationals are visiting source countries such as Indonesia to facilitate this trade. 
  • Key export hubs in Indonesia include the airports of Supadio, in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and Sepinggan airport, in Balikpapan East Kalimantan. 
  • Key imports hubs in China include Hong Kong and Shenzhen, with the coast between Hong Kong and Putian appearing to be a potential transit hub. 
  • Putian is highlighted as a potential processing centre of helmeted hornbill casques. 

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If you wish to utilise our illegal trade seizure maps and need access to the raw data or have information you wish to submit, please contact us (link to contact form).