Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gomantong Caves: Vital source of edible bird's nests in Sabah

SANDAKAN: The Gomantong Caves are the largest and most important source of edible bird’s nests in Sabah.

It is an intricate cave system inside Gomantong Hill, which is the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area. Situated in a forest reserve, nearly two hours’ drive from here, the caves and the surrounding area are a protected area for wildlife, especially orangutans.

The main cave system is divided into two parts: the more accessible Simud Hitam (Black Cave), and the larger Simud Putih (White Cave) which lies above.

The cave system is home to many other animals, including massive populations of cockroaches and bats. Outside one can see crested serpent eagles, kingfishers, and Asian fairy bluebirds.

The caves have been renowned for their valuable edible swiftlet nests, which are harvested for bird’s nest soup. The most valuable of the nests, the white ones, can fetch very high prices.

Twice a year, from February to April and July to September, licensed collectors climb to the roof of the caves, using only rattan ladders, ropes, and bamboo poles, to collect the nests.

Harvesting is regulated by the Sabah Wildlife Department to ensure the swiftlets are given enough time to make new nests to lay their eggs and hatch them.

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