The rhinoceros hornbill is listed as Vulnerable (VU) in the IUCN Red List and Appendix II in CITES. The species is also protected under Regulation of Minister of Environment and Forestry No. 20 of 2018, Law No. 5 of 1990 and Government Regulation No. 7 of 1999.
The rhinoceros hornbill occurs in Southeast Asia in the Thai Peninsula, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Java. Three subspecies are recognized with the following range:
This species is found in elevations of 1,400 m asl in dense lowland forest, hills, dipterocarp forest (Shorea spp.), secondary forest and swamp forest.
The rhinoceros hornbill has black body, head, back, wings and breast. White abdomen and thighs. Tail is also white with wide black band across the middle.
This is a large bird with body length of 80-90 cm. Beak yellow and red at the base. Large casque of similar color on upper mandible, shaped like an upturned cylinder. Adult male can be identified from the black on its casque and red iris. Adult female has bluish white iris and casque lacking any black coloration.
Rhinoceros hornbills often forage on fruit trees, hunt small vertebrates and large arthropods (invertebrates with segmented bodies). Figs and other high-lipid fruits are favored items. In addition, these birds also eat lizards, tree frogs, bird eggs, spiders, and large insects including beetles and crickets.
During breeding season, the rhinoceros hornbill is assisted by 25 “helpers” of young adult and adult birds to help maintain their territory through their calls. The male patiently delivers food to the female and their young. Selectively logged forest and open areas among forests and settlements are some breeding spaces for rhinoceros hornbills.
They nest in natural tree cavities and have also checked out rock crevasses. Rhinoceros hornbills have also been found nesting in dead trees. They prefer to nest in meranti (Shorea spp.) trees. If they come across a small nesting hollow, the female would carve the hole to accommodate their needs.
Poaching is a major threat to rhinoceros hornbills. Their meat is consumed and other parts are used as ornaments for customary rituals.
The Dayak Iban tribe refers to the rhinoceros hornbill as kenyalang which has a significant meaning in the tribe’s main ritual of Gawai Kenyalang. They believe that the rhinoceros hornbill is the highest symbol of all the worldly birds.
Rhinoceros hornbill carvings are used to welcome the bird god Sengalang Burong during festivities and celebrations. In addition, their tail feathers are believed to help bridge the living world with the afterlife in the Dayak’s healing ritual.