22 Nov 2007

Sightseeing: The Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Hill is the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area and contains at least nine caves. For centuries the Gomantong Caves have been renowned for the valuable edible birds’ nests made by two of the four species of swiftlets that roost in the caves. During the harvesting months, visitors may be able to witness the birds’ nests collectors in action. This is an age-old tradition and the trade history of birds’ nests spans several hundreds of years. Gomantong consists of two caves complexes, Simud Hitam and Simud Putih. Simud hitam is the main cave, a five-minute walk from the Registration Centre. Along the way to the cave enjoy the beautiful green surroundings, and if you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a macaque or two. A boardwalk inside the caves make exploration an easy task. Be sure to have a torchlight ready. Once inside be amazed by the 90-metre high cave roofs. Which is where the swiftlets’ nests are often found.

Exploring the Simud Putih is more for the adventurous, requiring rock climbing skills. The ‘white saliva’ birds’ nests found here are more valuable as they are more difficult to collect. The birds’s nests harvesters are individuals who have nerves of steel and skill honed through years of experience. Dangling precariously from the narrow network of ladders is not the task for the faint hearted! It is not surprising that there are only a few experience individuals who are very much in demand by people and communities that hold the Government’s harvesting licenses. Edible birds’ nests are protected under the Birds Nest Ordinance and the Forest Enactment. Heavy fines and penalties are imposed on unlicensed collectors

Generally two collections are made. The first takes place early in the breeding season before the swiftlets lay their eggs. The birds then make another nest in which they finally lay their eggs. After the young had fledged, the second collection is made. Care must be taken to assure that the nests are collected only after the young swftlets have abandoned these nests. Besides observing the exciting display of skill and courage by the birds’ nests harvesters, another activity for keen naturalists would be to watch the spectacular display of over 2 million or so resident bats as they spiral out for their evening feed. This usually occurs at 5:15 pm and 6:15 pm but rain may delay or ’cancel’ this spectacular event. As the bats leave the swiftlets are usually beginning to make their way back to the caves after a day’s foraging. The changing of ‘shifts’ between the bats and birds makes quite fascinating scene! Look out for the Bat Hawks that linger not far from the scene, as they pray specifically on the bats as they leave their roost

How to get there

Take a 45-minute drive or enjoy a leisurely 6-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. From Sandakan town make arrangements for a journey to the Kinabatangan region, which is approximately 2 hours by road. For more information, please contact Sabah Tourism Board 088-212121 or Sri Pelancongan Sabah Sdn Bhd at 088-232 121

Source: Sabah Tourism Magazine.