Monday, November 1, 2010

Gomantong Caves

Borneo has been a source of bird nests, used in bird nest soup, for the Chinese market since the 17th century. The Chinese have long believed that the nests have medicinal qualities.
The bird nests of the Swiftlets, the White-nest Swiftlet and the Black-nest Swiftlet, are used to make bird nest soup. The Swiftlets nest in colonies in large caves in enormous numbers - reaching several million in some caves.
One of the most well known cave systems in Borneo for collecting birds nests is at Gomantong in Sabah. The collection of nests at Gomantong caves is strictly monitored to ensure sustainability, and many believe these are the best managed caves in the world. Enjoy photos of Gomantong Cave.
At the onset of the breeding season the Swiftlets build a nest which is harvested straight away. The birds then build a second nest and are left alone until after the chicks have fledged. These nests are then collected.
There are differences in the timing of the breeding season between species and different cave systems. At Simud Putih cave in Gomantong the initial harvest of 'white' nests is in February, followed by a second collection in June or July. In the main cave at Gomantong, Simud Hitam, the first collections are in March - April, and the second collection in Late August and September.

Nest collectors take great risks to collect the nests, reflecting the value placed up on the nests. Using traditional rattan and rope ladders and bamboo poles collectors ascend to the cave roofs where the tiny nests are cemented to the rock. They cave roofs can be 60m and higher. The nests are scraped from the roof with a traditional tool called a jalok. Another member of the team then collects the nests from the floor of the cave.
Gomantong Caves can be visited as part of a trip to the Kinabatangan River. The main cave visited by tourists is a breathtaking experience - because of the sheer scale of the cave, the enormous volume of Swiftlets and bats and the strong smell of ammonia from bird droppings on the cave floor. If you are interested in visiting Gomantong Caves as part of your holiday to Sabah, Borneo then please contact the Borneo Dream team.


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