The Sulu hornbill is probably the rarest hornbill in the world, and appears to be on the verge of extinction (2). This bird is predominantly black, although the upperparts have a glossy green sheen and the tail is a brilliant white (3). The large, powerful bill is black and topped by a blade-like bony crest, known as a 'casque' (4). Males and females are similar in appearance, although females tend to be smaller in size with smaller bills and casques (2). Juveniles have a small, greenish-yellow bill and no casque (2).
Very little data on the natural ecology and behaviour of this rare bird has been recorded; the only information on breeding habits comes from local people who report that young emerge between May and June, from a clutch size of two (5). Large trees are required for nesting (4), and these birds have been reported to feed on forest fruit, small lizards and insects (5).
Endemic to three of the Sulu Islands in the Philippines: Tawitawi, Jolo and Sanga-sanga (5). Once abundant on these islands, it is today only confirmed to persist on Tawitawi, where there may be as few as 20 breeding pairs remaining (5). Unconfirmed reports of these hornbills on the small islands of Tandubatu, Dundangan and Baliungan require further investigation (4).
The islands of the Sulu archipelago escaped large-scale deforestation until the end of the 20th Century (2). Today however, the islands of Jolo and Sanga-sanga have been almost completely logged and have consequently suffered the local extinction of the Sulu hornbill (5). Logging in Tawitawi has also caused the deleterious decline of the species in its final stronghold. Hunting has also been a major cause of the destruction of this species; nestlings are collected annually for food and adults are reportedly shot on site, either for food or target practice (5). The tiny population of Sulu hornbills that remain is on the verge of extinction; political unrest in the region continues to hamper conservation efforts (2).
The Sulu hornbill does not currently occur within any protected areas (4), and is in grave danger of disappearing before it has been properly studied. Research into the life history and biology of this rare bird are urgently needed along with survey work and protection measures (2). The Sulu hornbill is listed on Appendix II of the Conventional on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Mindano State University have carried out some public awareness campaigns (5). Time is running out however, and the Sulu hornbill may soon receive the dubious accolade of being the be the first hornbill to become extinct in the 21st Century (5).
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