Swiftlets ranching — is it legal?

Source: http://www.theborneopost.com/?p=24637

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Swiftlets ranching is it legal?

Under the current State Forest Ordinance, swiftlets ranching is illegal but East Malaysia Birds Nest Merchant Association argues that the law should be updated

CHIRPINGS of birds produce a soothing effect. But the euphoria could just as well turn into an ear-splitting cacophony if the sounds of our feathered friends get magnified manifold like being played over a loudspeaker, for instance.

thesundaypost learned that some shops in the city had been converted into swiftlet-nesting areas and decided to investigate.It was said the top floors were equipped with sound systems and speakers that amplified the calls of swiftlets as a lure. We found this to be very true at a shop near Matang. Even before our car could turn into the junction, loud chirpings rang through the air. Automatically, we turned skyward, expecting to see flocks of swiftlets but there was none.

Instead, on the top floor of the shop was a wide square opening with speakers fixed on its sides.

It is learnt this bird attracting activity has been going on for quite some time as the people living nearby appear quite used to it.

But a few were still curious as to why we were aiming our cameras at the square opening.

One even joined us for a few minutes, looking as though he had found a reason to view more closely the building he had been passing almost everyday.

Its so noisy, right? he asked.

This man told us chirpings over the loudspeakers had been going on for quite some time. Yet nobody knew who owned this swiftlets nesting area.

Is it legal? For starters, its creating a ruckus to the nearby residential area and secondly, with cases of the perilous bird flu having been reported in the region, where do the swiflets figure in all this?

East Malaysia Birds Nest Merchant Association (BNMA) deputy president Jesse Tang has this to say: The State law under the Forest Ordinance states that swiftlets ranching is illegal.

However, he added that at this point, it has yet to be determined whether or not swiftlets ranching should be legalised.

The guidelines, he stressed, were not comprehensive and have yet to be updated and improved to take into consideration the swiftlets ranching industry.

Another thing is that wild swiftlets are protected species but what about those in the urban areas? How are urban swiftlets to be categorised? he asked.

He said this conundrum had arisen because in West Malaysia, swiftlets ranching was considered legal since the birds were no longer classified under the Forest and Wildlife Law but Jabatan Perkhidmatan Haiwan (JPH).

Tang said he understood the States Ordinance on swiftlets was to conserve and protect the species but what most people failed to realise was that swiftlet ranching was actually doing more good than harm to the birds.

He claimed ranchers were doing their part for conservation by increasing the population of swiftlets.

The ranchers provided a conducive environment for the population to grow compared to the wild where deforestation and poaching had affected the birds population, he noted.

Moreover, ranchers would not harvest the nests if there were eggs or hatchlings in them and since the ranching was done in a properly designated area, it was easier to monitor compared to the dark caves, he explained.

We dont have to climb 30 to 40 feet to check if there are eggs or hatchlings in the nest. Here, we can wait because the growth rate of the swiftlets population is important to us, he said.

The eggs take 20 to 25 days to hatch, depending on the temperature.

Tang assured that the association would discuss further with the ministers concerned to find an intermediate solution to permit swiftlets ranching in the State.

He said shutting down the ranching areas would jeapardise the swiftlets population as the displaced birds would migrate elsewhere if there was no place to nest.

Swiftlets stay with their nests for life if the breeding site is conducive.

Presently, there are 500 swiftlet ranches throughout the State, some of which are owned and operated by our members, Tang disclosed.

He advised intending ranchers not to simply renovate their shops or homes but wait for the ruling on swiftlets ranching to be updated and changed before making such an investment.

He urged them to fully understand the regulations first.

The two most prominent species used in the birds nest business are the Black Nest Swiftlet and the White Nest Swiftlet.

Ranchers prefer the White Nest as its made up mostly of the birds saliva so it comes out clear. Whereas the Black Nest consists of both the birds saliva and feathers.

Asked to compare the home-cared birds with those in the caves, Tang said it all depended on the buyers.

He said ranched swiftlets were more natural given that their nests were built on dry wooden planks.

Those in the caves built their nests with minerals and salts from the limestones, he added.

Here, Tang was quick to add that this did not mean the nests from the caves were not good rather it depended on buyers preference.

When it came to pricing, he said both type of bird nests cost, more or less, the same.

Its therefore no surprise that the birds nest business is a lucrative one the current price for a kilogramme is about RM5,000.

According to Tang, a rancher can probably get 100 birds to nest in the first year but harvesting will normally take place only in the second or third year when the number of nests multiply to about 500, allowing the ranchers to harvest up to three times per year.

He said a rancher could get well above 10kg per year.

He believed the price of birds nests would move up owing to global demand and the fact that only a few countries were producing this special delicacy.

The availabiliy of edible birds nests are confined to lower Thailand, West Malaysia, part of Indonesia Sumatra, Java and Bali Sarawak and Sabah. This means we are exclusive producers.

He said even Japan and China were keen on producing birds nests but could not even though they had the market.

Tang felt Malaysia should take advantage of this, saying: The Thai government funds swiftlet ranching and West Malaysia is also enjoying this so let us reap the benefits too.

There was no denying the industry would have to be regulated but it must be done in a way to help it grow positively, he added.

Interestingly, the total export of birds nests from Indonesia to the world was equal to half of the total export of palm oil from Malaysia, he said.

And the area used for the birds nests industry is less than one per cent of that for palm oil so we dont need to clear land but would still get almost the same income.

On the volume of Sarawaks birds nest exported, Tang said it was difficult to specify because a lot of the nests came from caves and not many from ranches, making it difficult to monitor.

Yet, whats known is Indonesia produces 90 per cent compared to the 10 per cent from Sarawak.

Indonesia will also buy birds nests from West Malaysia for export, given the formers low labour costs.

Tang, however, believed Malaysias birds nests were of better grade as the weather for the industry was much kinder here.

Moreover, he said, the houses across the border for swiftlet ranches were quite old, more traditional and less conducive.

Even if we came into the industry late, we adopted higher technology more easily. So in aspects of control and management, we are at an advantage.

Tang said the association hoped to help the ministers concerned draw up guidelines and provisions for swiftlets ranching in the State.

It was also willing to act as the industrys regulator, he added.

Its not like poultry farming where we can shift the livestock whenever we want. But we certainly cant discuss this shifting around with the soaring swiftlets.

On the environment, Tang said based on a JPH study in West Malaysia, swiftlets were positive birds and a plus point to humans.

He said swiftlets actually removed insects some which were not quite visible to the naked eye from the air, acting as sort of an atmospheric filter.

Furthermore, since swiftlets fly around during the day and roost at dusk, they also help to get rid of mosquitoes.

They are balancing the effects of ecology. Research has shown that places with a lot of swiftlets also record a low number of aedes mosquitoes, Tang said.

The birds droppings also does not pose much of a problem given that they are normally found in the nestling area and not outside. So the councils need not worry about cleaning up.

According to Tang, swiftlets do not normally land on roof tops or roads as they tend to fly up to 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level.

These birds are also said to be the last an the list of disease-carriers. So far, there have not been any case to show swiftlets are bird-flu carriers, he said.

Hmmm… Azizi Ali from Millionaires Planet
is promoting seminars on this topic though…

They claim to say many West Malaysians
are doing it and earning lots of cash…