Malaysian PhD student Ravinder Kaur lands UK award for hornbill research

Working with her husband and wildlife photographer Sanjitpaal Singh, RAVINDER KAUR is all out to provide breeding opportunities for the hornbills in the Borneo rainforest of Sabah



Ravinder Kaur and project partner and hubby Sanjitpaal Singh (left) — Photos: Sanjitpaal Singh/

Researcher and hornbill expert Ravinder Kaur has won the 2017 Future Conservationist Award by UK-based Conservation Leadership Programme, making her the only Malaysian to receive the award this year.

The award comes with a funding allowing Ravinder, a research assistant at the Kuala Lumpur-based Universiti Malaya (UM), and her team to provide breeding opportunities for the hornbills.

Her team will be braving the Borneo rainforest to help monitor and alleviate the nest-hole crisis suffered by helmeted hornbills and their close cousins, according to an update at the programme website.

SEE ALSO: Ranger Jasdev passionate about protecting Malayan tigers

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“I reacted by tapping my teammate’s shoulder incessantly while pointing at the email. Truly our proudest moment. This is a great opportunity to advance our careers and hornbill conservation in Malaysia,” she was quoted as saying when first heard that she landed the award.

Her hornbill project is a long-term commitment towards building artificial nesting boxes for hornbills and studying the nest-hole crisis. Her focus is now on Kinabatangan, in Sandakan, Sabah. It is a degraded forest, she said, as there was a lack of big trees, but it is also a regenerating forest, reports Malaysian newspaper The Star.

“We find bigger species of hornbills living here,” she said, referring to the Rhinoceros and Helmeted Hornbills. SEE: PhD student first Malaysian to get UK award for hornbill research (The Star, 28 June 2017)

She works with her husband and wildlife photographer Sanjitpaal Singh.

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) was initiated in 1985 in response to the need for additional scientific data on threatened species. The programme focused on sponsoring UK university students to collect data on biological diversity overseas during their summer break.

Over time, the programme has evolved to address changing conservation needs, and has become an international capacity building programme supporting young conservationists, the majority of whom are working in their own countries, to undertake applied biodiversity projects in less developed countries.

This is description provided for Ravinder’s project, entitled ‘Conservation of Bornean hornbills in Malaysia’:

The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is a regenerating forest and the population of critically endangered helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) and near threatened rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) are declining based on monthly river surveys conducted by HUTAN. Being secondary hole-nesters, hornbills do not create tree cavities (Chuailua et al., 1998, Datta and Rawat, 2004, Poonswad et al., 2013b, Pasuwan et al., 2015). Hence, its population is limited by the availability of suitable tree cavities (Datta and Rawat, 2004, Poonswad et al., 2013b, Poonswad, 1993, Poonswad et al., 2013a), food plants and roosting sites (Poonswad et al., 1999). Because of its heavy casque, Helmeted Hornbills require a protruding cavity to use as its perch. It is also hunted for its “red ivory” in neighbouring countries. The loss of suitable natural cavities is a direct threat to the long-term survival of the hornbills. Hence, our purpose is to provide breeding opportunities for the hornbills. Tree cavities will be located using plots (systematic sampling) and then evaluated and restored accordingly (e.g soil added to raise a sunken cavity floor). In addition, artificial nest boxes will be tested, developed and installed to provide more breeding opportunities for the hornbills.

Ravinder’s conservation battle goes hand-in-hand with her PhD thesis, of which some chapters include building nesting boxes for hornbills and monitoring their natural cavities and nesting behaviour, the report added, which described her as someone who ‘eats, sleeps and breathes hornbills’.

Ravinder Kaur: Braving the Borneo rainforest in Kinabatangan, in Sandakan, Sabah, for the hornbills — Photos: Sanjitpaal Singh/


Malaysian environmentalist Gurmit Singh tells his story (Asia Samachar, 23 April 2017)

Ranger Jasdev passionate about protecting Malayan tigers (Asia Samachar, 2 Sept 2016)

Gurinder Singh Shahi: Thinker, eco-warrior who touched so many lives (Asia Samachar, 16 Aug 2016)


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  1. Congratulations Ravinder. Excellent job and well done. As per the teachings of Guru Nanak Sahib, we should always keep in our mind the ecology, conservation and mother nature to make this planet earth a happy and loving place for all.
    May Waheguru bless you, your family and colleagues with all the Divine wisdom and strength to make your contribution in your chosen career. you have made us all proud. Wishing you all the best