The Great Hornbill

Y Merina Chishi

A Naga octogenarian recollects the days when the great Hornbill bird was found abundantly in the jungles of his native village. His grandchildren have seen the bird at a zoo in Dimapur. Even as the old man tries to explain why the hornbills were hunted, his grandchildren find it hard to understand why anyone would kill such a beautiful looking bird.

The Hornbill Festival is named after the Hornbill bird that is depicted in many Naga folklores and is widely valued by tribesmen for its meat and body parts. In spite of the popularity of the festival, many Nagas do not know much about the bird, let alone seeing one; or the significance of naming the festival after the bird.

Hornbill bird-also known as the Great Pied Hornbill is one of the largest members of the Hornbill family. It is found in the Indian sub-continent and the South East Asian region. Its impressive size and striking colour have made it important in many tribal cultures. The Great Hornbill is said to be long lived; sometimes up to 50 years.

While in Nagaland efforts are taken to save the endangered species, one can only find a few in zoos. For years the Hornbill has been hunted for its various body parts. Among Naga tribes, its feather and tail is widely used in traditional headgears. Some tribes also relish the meat.    

So, quite ironic as it may be that the festival be named after the Hornbill, the government is nevertheless making some effort to persuade people from killing the majestic bird. Till a few years back, the hornbill could be found being sold openly. This has stopped and the only probable reason could be that there are none left to kill. The tribal organizations also made an effort to desist people from killing the bird to use its tail in headgears.    

Also during the 2011 Hornbill Festival, the state government launched the “Save the Hornbill” campaign. It garnered support from local people as well as visitors. A petition was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife but nothing further is known about its status.      

China is a perfect example of saving its national pride and symbol-the giant panda. Once considered endangered, China put all conservation efforts and increased the panda population within a few years.  Of course, one cannot compare to China; but Nagaland too has the communitisation programme and community conservation areas have been set up all across the state. The question though is-are we doing enough to conserve wildlife? If not, then there is need to reaffirm our conservation efforts lest the hornbill becomes a bird found only in our folklores.


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