We protect from overharvesting and habitat destruction the colonies of swiftlets found in the Pangi Cave system that are producing edible nests

In late 2009, HUTAN, with the Sukau community, the Sabah Wildlife Department, and the Sabah Forestry Department, agreed to work collaboratively to develop a programme to curb the unsustainable harvest of swift nests in Pangi Virgin Jungle Reserve and help the swiftlet populations recover. Through a joint Memorandum of Understanding, HUTAN was mandated to fully manage the Pangi cave system. Swiftlets are found throughout the Indo-Pacific region, building their edible nests in limestone caves. These nests are used for 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.

These caves were traditionally owned by local families and managed in a low impact and sustainable manner, bringing economic benefits to the community. Over the last decades, illegal harvesting of bird nests, indiscriminately destroying eggs and nestlings, caused a drastic decline in the swiftlet populations and even led to local extinctions. Three cave systems are found in the limestone outcrops near the village of Sukau. Two of them have already seen their swiftlet populations decline and disappear. A last cave system located in the 439 hectare Pangi Virgin Jungle Reserve (VJR) still harbors a small swiftlet population.

In 2010, a team of 13 trained young villagers was hired by HUTAN to guard the caves, monitor the swiftlet population, and patrol the forest 24h/day and 365 days/year. The “Pangi Swiftlet Recovery Project” was born. Today eight permanent staff and ten interns are in charge of this project. From less than 200 breeding pairs in 2010, the colony is now more than 2,000 pairs. Once the swiftlet population has fully recovered, we may be able to start sustainable harvesting. The proceeds from the sale of the sustainably harvested nests will then be shared with the community, as a model showing that conservation can also support local economy.