Swiftlets

Precious delicacy, Birds Nest. Photo by HUTAN/Arni Natalia Arpa

Precious delicacy, Birds Nest. Photo by HUTAN/Arni Natalia Arpa

Since December 2009, HUTAN and the Sabah Wildlife Department have working together to develop a recovery programme to ensure the recuperation and the long term conservation of the edible nest swiftlet populations in the Sukau area.

The aim of this project is to combine conservation benefits with economic proceeds to the Sukau community. Conservation has to benefit local communities.

Swiftlets are found throughout the Indo-Pacific region, building their edible nests in limestone caves. These nests are an important constituent of traditional Chinese medicine and, since the 14th century, their harvest and trade have thrived in the Lower Kinabatangan, developing into a deep-rooted tradition within the local Orang Sungai community.

Three cave systems are found in the limestone outcrops of the Sukau area (Pangi, Keruak andBod Tai). These caves were traditionally owned and exploited by local families but are now property of the government under the management of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Rope and ladders for bridges on the way to a swiftlet cave in Pangi. HUTAN/Berjaya Elahan

Rope and ladders for bridges on the way to a swiftlet cave in Pangi. HUTAN/Berjaya Elahan

Over the last decade, illegal harvesting of bird nests, indiscriminately destroying eggs and nestlings, caused a drastic decline in the swiftlet populations and even led to local extinctions (e.g. Keruak). Moreover, recent large scale forest clearing in the area and conversion of pristine forest vegetation into oil palm monoculture have altered the integrity of the ecosystem, reducing the quantity and variety of aerial insect food sources for the swiftlets.

Inside one of the Pangi Caves which can be rather large on the inside but difficult to get into. Photo by HUTAN/Arni Natalia Arpa

Inside one of the Pangi Caves which can be rather large on the inside but difficult to get into. Photo by HUTAN/Arni Natalia Arpa