Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Birds of fortune

Birds of fortune

by Sidi Munan. Posted on January 30, 2011, Sunday
THEY look like giant match boxes with tiny windows, not the architectural models submitted for aesthetic contests. Each would cost from RM30,000 to RM200,000 to build. They are substitutes for caves used by the birds, not ordinary birds, but those kinds that build their nests with their saliva – the most expensive saliva in the world and one of the main export items from the State. You do not require containers for these products; one hand luggage that fits into the overhead compartment of an aircraft, if stuffed with edible nests. contains a lot of money on the Singapore market.

BIRD OF FORTUNE: Picture of a small bird of fortune.
At one stage, the Sarawak government was concerned with over harvesting of those nests in the caves and wanted them protected. To regularise the collections, licences were issued by the Sarawak Museum to traditional owners of caves and the Forest department enforces the regulations relating to the rearing of swifts especially in the shop houses in towns and cities.
These birds have been living in our caves as old as the caves themselves, Niah being most famous of them all. Many caves are also found in the Ulu Baram, Suai and in Bau and on the islands, Satang Besar being one of them; many more across the border, in the Kalimantan.
Nowadays they have new homes of concrete built for them in the countryside. Those who squat in the shop houses are having problem with the law, and often get chased away because they are so noisy and careless with their toilet habits. The city people want to have peace and quiet in the evening and don’t appreciate their kind of music.
Last weekend, I was surprised to see at least twenty huge match boxes on both sides of the road to Pendam and Sebuyau. These bird houses have mushroomed for the past one year. Many are still under construction – concrete evidence of the confidence in the future of the trade in the edible nests.
I am told there is big money in those match boxes full of birds. Their nests, if properly processed, find ready market in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and in other cities in China. As of last week, a kilogram of good grade of nests (processed) fetched between RM11000 –RM19000!
According to a recent media report, Malaysia is the second largest producer of edible birds nests after Indonesia. From Sarawak alone several hundred tons of nests of all grades, subject to correction, have been harvested since 1990.

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