NEW YORK (March 26) -- To help save two rare bird species living deep in the jungles of Sarawak, Malaysia, the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) spent two years collecting donations of a different kind from zoos throughout North America. It wasn’t money, but tail feathers shed from captive hornbills.
The feathers will be shipped to Sarawak tomorrow, where officials will distribute them to indigenous people for use in traditional headdresses and ceremonies. This will offset the need to hunt rhinoceros and helmeted hornbills, whose populations in the wild have plummeted in recent years.
WCS scientists Drs. Elizabeth Bennett and Christine Sheppard developed this innovative program. Dr. Bennett, who has worked with indigenous people in Sarawak for the past 15 years, collaborated with Sarawak’s Council of Customs and Traditions to ensure that using feathers from zoo animals is culturally acceptable.
“By every indication hornbill feathers from zoos are just as acceptable in ceremonies,” said Dr. Bennett. The Wildlife Conservation Society has also been supplying painted turkey feathers that indigenous people use in hats and capes, as well as wear on their hands during dances.
“This was a cooperative effort involving 15 accredited zoos across the U.S. to help save these species,” said Dr. Sheppard, the Bronx Zoo’s Curator of Ornithology. “WCS will continue to work with the zoo community to protect these magnificent birds from extinction.” Hornbills are known for their spectacular bony casques attached to the top of their bills. The Bronx Zoo has both rhinoceros and helmeted hornbills in its collection as well as more than a dozen other hornbill species.
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