Borneo hornbill expert Ravinder Kaur gets timely lift

Dr Ravinder Kaur – Photo: Sanjitpaal Singh/
By Asia Samachar Team | MALAYSIA |

Borneo hornbill expert Dr Ravinder Kaur and the team at work deep in the jungles of Sabah are making a huge difference to the critically endangered bird species.

It is no easy task. To begin with, they have to penetrate deep into the jungles of Kinabatangan in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the Borneo island. They ride boats and trek for miles in some areas. And they’ve encountered hunters, who released warning shots in one encounter.

But nothing deters Ravinder in the pursuit of her passion: the Helmeted hornbill. She studied hornbill breeding ecology and conservation in the Kinabatangan as part of her PhD.

The hornbill princess has received some sweet news. She has landed the Terrestrial Conservation Leadership Award from the Marsh Christian Trust, in partnership with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), for her “significant contribution to sustainable biodiversity at a local level.” With it comes £4,000, money that would go a long way to help them continue their work.

“The Marsh Award came at the right time—it has definitely lifted my spirits. By winning it, I hope our project receives more exposure and we get to connect with future long-term funders to help keep it going strong,” Ravinder was quoted in article released by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP).

The hornbills are a family of bird found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia. They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is frequently brightly colored and sometimes has a casque on the upper mandible. They are cavity breeders and are unable to create their own cavities. The female will remain enclosed inside the cavity for several months and the same pair will reuse the same cavity, year after year.

This is where Ravinder and her team come to play.

“I worked with HUTAN/KOCP to restore tree cavities that were eventually used by oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) to produce nine chicks,” she told Asia Samachar when asked what have they achieved so far.

Hornbills need natural tree cavities to nest in. However, the challenge is that most of these trees were lost through deforestation.

“We provide breeding opportunities for hornbills in two ways: we build artificial nest boxes for large bodied hornbills and we restore tree cavities to make them suitable for smaller bodied hornbills to use. We’re helping the population,” she said.


Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros Albirostris)- Photo: Sanjitpaal Singh / Jitspics

HUTAN is a French non-governmental organisation based in Kinabatangan while KOCP is the Orang-utan Conservation Project in Kinabatangan.

In 2013, a group of conservationists started installing artificial nest boxes to provide vital nesting sites for Kinabatangan hornbills. Four years later, in 2017, the team recorded the first-ever successful fledging of a wild rhinoceros hornbill chick from an artificial nest box.

After joining the initiative in 2014, Ravinder won a CLP Future Conservationist Award in 2017 to further improve breeding opportunities for Kinabatangan hornbills. Working with a local team, she designed a new ‘phase 2’ set of artificial nest boxes based on her PhD research about the temperature and humidity conditions inside hornbill nest cavities. She also worked with HUTAN/KOCP to restore tree cavities that were eventually used by oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros Albirostris) to produce nine chicks, according to the CLP entry.

What do they do in the field? Among others things, they try to establish a Helmeted hornbill preferred food plant nursery.

Here is how they described it in one of their reports available online: “We collected the Helmeted hornbill feces and tried to germinate the fig seeds within it. We also sought for help from Sabah Forestry Department and they were also unable to grow the seeds in the feces. However, we managed to grow seeds that were regurgitated from other endangered hornbill species. These seeds were collected from under the Bushy crested hornbill, Wreathed hornbill and the Rhinoceros hornbill nest tree. 270 seeds grew and survived. They were used in reforestation efforts and they have been tagged, so we can track their survival over the next year.”

Unfortunately, the project has been grounded during Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, with most of their donors unable to provide funds due to the pandemic.

“My team mates were working in the past few months until Sabah had a breakout. I’ve not been to Sabah since January but they send me data to process,” she said.

Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) – Photo: Sanjitpaal Singh / Jitspics

Malaysian PhD student Ravinder Kaur lands UK award for hornbill research (Asia Samachar,  29 June 2017)


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  1. Well done Ravinder. We need many people like you in our community to upkeep the passion in what ever we do. This spirit of passion-drive is very epitomal running in the blood of we Punjab is. Good job lots to learn from your work. More than Hornbill there is much to know about jungle environment the fauna and flora, the harmony and the dangers. It will be good if you share this in an interview with me in my program ” Thursday Tea with Bains”