Saturday, March 9, 2013

Man hurts hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures

Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures

A man was the subject of STOMPer Nikita's ire after he had restrained a young Hornbill just outside a Changi Village eatery and grabbed it by the neck in order to take photographs of it.

In her report, the STOMPer wrote:

"This man, who some say is a taxi driver, caught, mishandled & restrained a baby Hornbill which had just fledged at Changi Village on the morning of Mar 8.

"Just because this selfish & inconsiderate person wanted a picture of the bird and another with the bird, he refused to release it even though many birders and photographers tried to persuade him to let it go.

"It was freed only after he took many pictures of the bird and got a picture of himself proudly holding the bird.

"Earlier, the baby fledged & from its nest, tried to fly after Daddy Hornbill across the road, but it was too weak & landed outside a roti prata shop where the man was seated nearby.

"When the baby was trapped, Daddy & Mummy Hornbill were panicky, calling fanatically & hopping from tree to tree above the area.

"The whole experience left the fledging badly traumatized. In shock & in fright, it peed uncontrollably on the ground.

"I don't know what injuries that man may have caused to the bird by the way he was holding it.

"After its release, Baby Hornbill sat quietly on the ground for a long time. The adult Hornbills had to leave as they were caring for another two juveniles of the same brood.

"The group of birders & photographers formed a wide ring around it, preventing anyone from going near it.

"After about half an hour, it gathered strength & courage to fly across the road with a number of birders/photographers chasing after it, trying to herd it to safer ground away from the road.

"It can only fly low, about just a meter off the ground & can't perch well, always falling to the ground. They shooed it further into the wooded area where Hornbills usually forage, hoping the parents will spot it.

"Eventually, the adult Hornbills spotted the fledging. Even when the chick saw its parents, it did not call out to them.

"I wonder if its neck or voice box was injured due to that man holding it.

"Anyway, the Hornbill family were happily reunited.

"Hope the little baby Hornbill survives and grow up to shit many, many times on that selfish and inconsiderate man!

"Note: The Oriental Pied Hornbill is the only species of Hornbill in Singapore & is protected by the law."
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures
Man hurts Hornbill by grabbing it around the neck just to take pictures

Full disclosure: I know Nikita, the person who submitted this post, on a personal basis, and was informed of this incident before it was posted and shared online.

It's always very distressing to encounter cases of mistreatment of wildlife. This juvenile Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) was fortunate that several bird enthusiasts and photographers were around to witness this incident, and prevented the culprit from doing further damage. In the absence of concerned individuals, or in the hands of another unscrupulous person, it's possible that the hornbill might have been subject to even worse abuse, or even captured as a pet. One can only hope that the hornbill was merely traumatised and did not suffer any permanent injury.

Nikita has posted her account of the incident on Facebook, and it's currently being shared quite widely.

Male Oriental pied hornbill, Changi;
(Photo by Nikita Hengbok)

Some people have voiced concerns and heaped scorn as to why it seems as if nothing was being done by the eyewitnesses, who seemingly allowed the man to have his way with the hornbill, rather than immediately intervening. While I cannot presume to speak on behalf of the people who were there (Nikita herself was not at the scene, and is posting what was recounted by her partner), I'm sure that nobody there expected this to happen. The way I see it, it's likely that it all happened in a matter of seconds: the fledgling was flying across the road towards its parents when it suddenly made an about-turn, landed on the ground close to the coffee shop, and a nearby person grabbed it before anybody else could react.

Based on what I was told (which is admittedly not necessarily completely reliable), the scene was chaotic; people everywhere were yelling at the man to release the bird, the adult hornbills were frantically flying and hopping about in the trees above, and the idiot at the centre of it all had responded to the pleas of others with "Why cannot catch?" Some of the witnesses were on the verge of using physical force to make him let go of it, while others loudly threatened to call the police. Perhaps fortunately for the man, he finally complied before the livid photographers lost their temper and assaulted him.

Male Oriental pied hornbill, Changi;
(Photo by Nikita Hengbok)

Personally, I have a feeling that I wouldn't have restrained myself and resorted to violence if I had been there, but on hindsight, it's very likely that doing so would have exacerbated the situation. As a wildlife observer, the basic cardinal rule is to always keep your distance, especially when young animals are involved. Making physical contact with a wild animal is generally frowned upon, especially because of the risk of stressing out or injuring the creature. Even if it is in distress and in need of rescue, trying to catch it not only puts the person at risk of injury should the animal retaliate, it's highly likely that even good intentions will result in further injury to the animal, whether through improper handling, or the animal's panicked struggling in an attempt to escape what it sees as a threat. Even in cases where the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) wildlife rescue officers come to the aid of birds in trouble, the trauma of capture sometimes simply proves to be fatal, even though precautions to minimise stress are taken.

With that in mind, I can understand why the photographers and birdwatchers did not immediately approach the man and force him to let go of the hornbill. And in some sense, I'm sure most people would rather talk things over and use persuasion to resolve conflict, instead of immediately threatening to inflict bodily harm.

While grabbing the man and giving him a punch, no matter how seemingly deserved, might have put a swift end to this situation, it's also possible that it could have resulted in even more stress to the young hornbill, which would have seen it as a fight between two predators. One does not simply grab the hornbill and wrestle it away from his grasp, unless you're counting on breaking the bird's bones. And if a scuffle had ensued, the hornbill could have been in even greater danger of injury.

At least in the end, the photographers were eventually able to herd it back to safety.

Male Oriental pied hornbill with chick in nest;
(Photo from Nikita Hengbok)

It is easy to declare what should have been done or what one would have done at the scene, but hindsight is always 20/20. I have been guilty of this in many situations, and while I do find myself wondering if more could have been done to prevent the hornbill from being manhandled, I am aware that it's ultimately pointless. What we need to do is to call out such appalling behaviour should we witness it happening, know how to confront people seen committing such acts in a manner that not only benefits the animal, but also reduces the odds of bringing harm upon oneself, and raise awareness among the general public of how to behave appropriately around wildlife.

Having said that, there are some silver linings. People who previously did not know that there are wild hornbills breeding in Singapore might now be aware of their presence, while others might now understand that the harassment of wildlife and potentially causing injury are simply unacceptable, even if it's just to satisfy one's curiosity.

Oriental pied hornbill chick;
(Photo from Nikita Hengbok)

Ultimately, we can debate and squabble, but what matters is whether we learn from this incident and find more effective ways to deal with people who harm wildlife. Whether it's poachers, people who feed monkeys and wild boars, or unethical photographers, it's important to figure out how to best confront such individuals. Calling the authorities or wildlife professionals, verbal threats, and even physical action can work, but it also depends a lot on one's approach and choice of words, strength in numbers, and sad to say, whether one is at a physical advantage if both parties come to blows. Even if one acts with the best intentions, it does not guarantee that the animal is in safe hands, and does not end up being harmed by the would-be saviour. This needs to prompt further discussion among fellow wildlife enthusiasts. Are we doing enough as citizens to help protect our natural heritage? Or do we need to be more confrontational and take a more adversarial approach when dealing with miscreants? Perhaps this can form the basis of a Leafmonkey workshop session?

Hopefully the young hornbill has survived its ordeal, and has itself learned a valuable lesson on why humans are best avoided.

Oriental pied hornbill chick;
(Photo by Siaomouse, from Nikita Hengbok)