For such a small country, the Philippines supports an astonishing diversity of hornbills. At least 9 species (of 4 genera) and 10 subspecies are generally recognised. All are endemic and all have relatively small (in some cases minuscule) ranges, with particular forms occurring only on particular islands or groups of islands that were formerly connected by land bridges.

Unfortunately, given the gross extent of destruction of native forests, coupled with rampant hunting of these birds for food (hornbills are still regarded as a delicacy in some places, best eaten as finger-food or 'pulutan'
during beer drinking parties) and the live bird trade, all Philippine hornbills are now regarded as threatened, some critically so. Indeed, the Philippines not only has more threatened hornbills than any other country in the world, but the regrettable distinction of recording the first known hornbill extinction, namely the Ticao tarictic (P. p. ticaensis) which was known only from Ticao Island, off Masbate.

In recognition of this situation, a new, tripartite 'Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)', formally signifying the establishment of a 'Philippines Hornbills Conservation Programme (PHCP)', has just been signed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR, Govt. of the Philippines), Vogelpark Avifauna (VA, Netherlands) and the North of England Zoological Society (Chester Zoo, U. K). Although this a most welcome development, it has also taken some time to accomplish as the original proposal and first draft of the covering MOA were submitted to the DENR in 1998. Moreover, these documents were not only intended to enable formal recognition of this Programme, but to facilitate development of a range of interrelated conservation activities, many of which had been initiated several years earlier. To date, these activities, which are being developed and coordinated under the auspices of the 'FFI - Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Programme', include:

a) field status surveys - e.g. southern Luzon and offshore islands, Mindoro,
West Visayas (Negros, Panay, Masbate and Ticao), and the Sulu Islands;

b) habitat protection and restoration - i.e. local community forest wardening
schemes, assisting relevant local agencies (GOs and NGOs) in advocacy
and development of management plans for development of protected areas,
development of mixed native species tree nurseries, etc.

c) development of properly structured conservation breeding and research
programmes - currently confined to developing founder programmes
for two species, namely Visayan writhed (Aceros waldenI - IUCN 'Critically
Endangered') and Visayan tarictic (Penelopides p. panini - IUCN
hornbills, but possibly to be extended to include the Polillo tarictic ( P. manillae
subnigra) and other, most threatened taxa;

d) production and distribution of public awareness/education materials - e.g.
'Only in the Philippines....' and other posters, leaflets, teaching briefs, etc.

e) organisation of local biodiversity conservation workshops and teacher's
training programmes - e.g. on Polillo Island, Mindoro, Negros and Panay;

f) personnel training - both locally (field research and captive management)
and internationally (captive management and biodiversity conservation
theory and practice).

All of these activities have and are being conducted by, or in close collaboration with, various local 'partner' agencies, notably: University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB), West Visayas State University (WVSU), Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation (NFEFI), SU-Center for Studies in Tropical Conservation (CenTrop, Silliman University) and the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (CBCF). Funding support has been kindly provided by a variety of local and international agencies and 'partners' - mostly zoos and zoological societies in Europe, USA and Australia - and annual, core funding support provided by VA and NEZS.

William Oliver
Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme Fauna & Flora International Cambridge, U.K.