KOKO, ON-SITE RESIDENT ‘TERRORIST’ OF TUFI DIVE RESORT
We arrived at Tufi Dive Resort for a two week diving trip. We knew it was going to be quite a remote location, but what we didn’t expect was to be greeted by a very unusual host, Koko.
Koko was a wild Blyth’s Hornbill who had been rescued at a young age by one of the staff and had adopted Tufi Dive resort as his home. There was a period once only where had he flown off into the surrounding village and jungle, and was missing in action. He re-appeared after a few weeks quite traumatised with loss of physical condition and was nurtured back to his old condition by the staff. Since then he simply stayed on at the resort on by his own choice and free will even though he could fly off at any time.
The Papuan Hornbill (‘Kokomo’ in Tok Pisin) is the only hornbill species native to New Guinea. Hornbills are one of the largest birds in this region and are often found nesting in low lying forests, up to 18m-30m off the ground. Hornbills are literally on the menu in remote places such as Tufi, and their feathers are a popular adornment for native tribal head dresses who also use their lower beaks as a spear point.
But Koko was a very unusual hornbill. He was a very strong, independent character and took ownership on most material things around him at the resort. This could include the chess set, bar, cleaning broom and sofa in the lounge.
If he didn’t want you to use one or the other, there was no way he would let you. And he could be pretty forceful if he didn’t want you to. You didn’t want to get a nip from that beak of his which could do a lot of damage if he wanted to.
Koko was able to fly freely around the resort. Every day he would fly around the resort. You could here him coming by the ‘whoosh whoosh whoosh’ of his spectacular wings as he brushed passed. Low altitude flying was his specialty so you had to have your wits about you when he was ‘incoming’!
He was a regular visitor to the lounge-dining area, especially at breakfast where he would be offered titbits such as his favourite muffins. During the day he would disapear, only to re-appear at the end of the day when divers returned. He tended to perch around the bar when après diving drinks were being served.
He would often sit on the bar supervising the bar tender’s activities, especially the making of cocktails. Banana flavoured ones where his favourite, and if he wasn’t offered part of a banana, he would just snatch it off you faster than you could put it in the blender!
He regularly ‘sparred’ with the cleaning ladies in the mornings who would come to sweep the wooden floor of the lounge and dining room. My wife, a non-diver who often lounged around the resort after breakfast when the rest of us had left for diving, would often hear her screaming “Koko, NO, Koko, STOP IT, Koko, leave me alone! Get OFF my broom! Koko!” He would try to ride and peck her broom so she would stop sweeping, sending her into shrieks of fear which he seemed to revel in!
God help you if you sat on HIS couch in the lounge and he didn’t like you. You would soon know when to move on, and you had better be pretty sharp about it.
Koko would often dominate the couch by sitting on the high back behind you. Then he would start to ‘inspect’ you, starting at your scalp, ears, face, glasses, any neck jewellery, and so on. His beak was quite sharp and threatening, especially when around your eyes or ears – quite breathtaking at times!
He certainly was a loveable and charming character, and made our stay at Tufi a very special one. Such an interaction with a wild animal, especially one with such spunk and personality made our holiday an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Long may he live on and prosper!
Postscript: Coco apparently is still ‘terrorising’ staff and divers, and apparently the resort’s flock has increased to three hornbills now. Sounds like a return visit is going to be a must!
[Photos and videos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]