Friday, June 25, 2010

Gomantong Caves - Borneo’s living cave

The stench of ammonia was unmistakable. From the thick forest, the smell assaults you from all directions. Finally you get the whole whiff as you come to a clearing marked by a cluster of stilt houses. Beyond the clearing is the largest chamber of the Gomantong Caves.

The Gomantong Caves are located in Sabah, at the northern tip of Borneo, the world’s third largest island. The caves have been described by conservationists as "the best-managed edible bird’s nest cave in the world." The caves are also said to have been in use many years ago, supplying the Emperor of China with the delicacy for centuries.

Borneo itself (divided between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia) is a hothouse of diverse flora and fauna. Generally, caves in tropical climates can host more living things than caves in cooler parts of the world, and the deeper you go, the more interesting the cave fauna becomes.

Two cave complexes make up Gomantong Caves and within them about 20-plus chambers. The two complexes -- Simud Hitam (Black Cave) and Simud Putih (White Cave) -- are where bird’s nests are harvested. The White Cave yields the expensive "white" bird’s nest, so named because the nests are free of the droppings and debris that characterize the "black" bird’s nest.

The Black Cave is about 30 meters wide and approximately 100 meters tall. It is the more accessible of the two cave complexes and can readily be visited from ground level. An elevated, circular wooden walkway has been built along the wall of the cave in order to let visitors observe the cave and watch the harvesting of the nests.

The curious can witness the harvesting between February and April, and again between July and September, when the eggs would have hatched and the nests abandoned. On off seasons, the show turns to the cave and its fauna.

Gomantong Cave is clearly a living cave. Guano (bat droppings) is commonly harvested and sold as fertilizer. Not so here. The guano has been left uncollected on the cave floor and now resembles a black undulating hill. This is to let the natural cycle of cave life go on uninterrupted by humans.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Gomantong Caves - Borneo’s living cave
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