Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Swiftlets Vs Heritage

Recently, the hottest issue in Penang was the issue of swiftlet farming in Penang.

This remind me of the Ipoh city, where many of old shophouses in the city are used as swiftlet house or swiftlet hotel. Whenever you wake up early in the morning, the birds are always flying in the sky, moving in and out of the bird house, it is the same when the sunset. Penang will be like Ipoh, if action is not taken fast....

Some said swiftlets have their right, like human right to stay in Georgetown. So the debate of bird right and human right to stay in heritage city started

Some said swiftlet farming is a living heritage, as the breeding of swiftlets had been around for 20 years; it is a living heritage, and the farmer has right to continue the breeding of the swiftlets in the heritage city of Georgetown. But the Penang land have been in Penang even before 1786(but please don't tell me, the swiftlets have been around even before human occupation in Penang....).

The UNESCO is against swiftlet farming in heritage city....

Residents are against swiftlets farming in residential areas, urban areas due to health reason; the resistance had been initiated some time ago, in Nibong Tebal and many areas around Malaysia.....but the enforcement authority was taking a wait and see attitude....some local council close one eye, as it is a lucrative business....

Later the complaint of the residents was the noise pollution...

Now the reason for the resistance is, due to maintenance of Heritage City Status of Georgetown.

Some even worried that Penang will become Pulau Burong(Bird Island), instead of Pulau Pinang(Betel Nut Island)......

So the fight of Bird right and Human right/Heritage right; has begin.....


Swiftlets are birds contained within the four genera Aerodramus, Hydrochous, Schoutedenapus and Collocalia. They form the Collocaliini tribe within the swift family Apodidae. The group contains around thirty species mostly confined to southern Asia, south Pacific islands, and northeastern Australia, all within the tropical and subtropical regions. They are in many respects typical members of the Apodidae, having narrow wings for fast flight, with a wide gape and small reduced beak surrounded by bristles for catching insects in flight. What distinguishes many but not all species from other swifts and indeed almost all other birds[1] is their ability to use a simple but effective form of echolocation to navigate in total darkness through the chasms and shafts of the caves where they roost at night and breed. The nests of some species are built entirely from threads of their saliva, and are collected for the famous Chinese delicacy bird's nest soup.
The genus Aerodramus is of special interest due to its use of echolocation and their intricately constructed saliva nests which in some species contain no other material such as feathers, moss or twigs and are collected, selling at extremely high prices (see Bird's nest soup). It has been argued that the high demand for these nests could have had an adverse effect on their populations (Hobbs, 2003; Marcone, 2005) but other authorities (Jordan, 2004) have shown that modern techniques of nest farming have increased the bird population.

The use of echolocation was once used to separate Aerodramus from the non-echolocating genera Collocalia and Hydrochous (virtually nothing is known about Schoutedenapus). But recently, the Pygmy Swiftlet Collocalia troglodytes was discovered making similar clicking noises in and outside their cave (Price et al., 2004). Characteristics of behavior, such as what materials apart from saliva the nests contain, can be used to differentiate between certain species of Aerodramus (Lee et al., 1996).

Bird's Nest

The Chinese name for bird's nest soup, yàn wō (燕窝), translates literally as "swallow's nest". When dissolved in water, the birds' nests have a gelatinous texture used for soup or sweet tong sui. It is mostly referred to as "yin wo" unless references are made to the salty or sweet soup in Chinese cuisine.

Bird's nest soup (燕窝

Bird's nest soup is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. A few species of swift, the cave swifts, are renowned for building the saliva nests used to produce the unique texture of this soup
The edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird's nest soup.[Authentic bird's nest soup is made from nests of some species of swiftlet, mainly the Edible-nest (or White-nest) swiftlet (Aerodramus fuciphagus) and the Black-nest Swiftlet. Instead of twigs, feathers and straw, these swiftlets make their nest only from strands of their gummy saliva, which harden when exposed to air. Once the nests are harvested, they are cleaned and sold to restaurants. Eating swiftlet nest material is believed to help maintain skin tone, balance qi ("life energy") and reinforce the immune system. It is also believed to strengthen the lungs and prevent coughs, improve the constitution and prolong life. The nutritional value of 100 g of dry nest includes 49.9 g of water-soluble protein (including amido nitrogen, monoamine nitrogen, non-amino nitrogen, arginine, humin, histidine, lysine and cysteine), 30.6 g carbohydrate (glycoprotein and mucin), 4.9 g iron, 2.5 g inorganic salt (including potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, silica and other trace elements), and 1.4 g fiber (Dictionary of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The History of Chinese Medicine and the Nutrition Table).

The energy contained in 100 g of swiftlet nest is 345 kcal. The nests are often served simmered in chicken broth.

Local Council's action

MPPP had divided swiftlet nest farms in the city into four categories and the enforcement action yesterday was the start of the operations against 32 sites which had been illegally converted into such farms.

Penang Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said these farms had been issued with notices to stop operations last year.

“We have earlier acted against 11 new illegal swiftlet farming operators. “The third category are 50 operators who applied for licences but did not get approval while 28 operators who came under the fourth category have received temporary licences,” he said.

The National Council for Local Government had decided on Sept 2 last year that new swiftlet nest farms would not be allowed at heritage sites in Penang and Malacca while existing ones would have to clear out in three years.

Chow said the state would not wait until the grace period ends before taking action.

(source: The Star, http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2011/3/12/north/8239245&sec=north)

UNESCO added Georgetown and Malaysia's southern city of Melaka to its list in 2008, saying both "constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia." Penang was a major 19th-century port during British colonial rule and is known for quaint mansions and architecture.

UNESCO has expressed concerns to Malaysian authorities over the impact of the swiftlet farms, said Kishore Rao, deputy director of the Paris-based UNESCO World Heritage Center. Conservation activists claim that buildings converted into swiftlet farms suffer irreparable harm because windows and doors are altered, and sprinkler systems set up at some homes to keep them moist for the birds cause water damage.

Carole Loh, president of the Association of Swiftlet Nest Industry in Penang, said the ban was unfair because some swiftlet farms have been in Georgetown for more than 20 years. The larger farms have thousands of birds. "They are part of our living heritage," said Loh, whose association represents about 100 breeders. "These houses are (the birds') homes. We cannot just move."

(source: extracted from Associated Press with thanks)

MPPP is not the first local council to ban swiftlet farming in the city. Sabah has banned it, Penang followed. Penang has strong justification, being a Heritage City....

A group of Penang people has opened a facebook account to collect support from Penang langs, to voice their support to the action of the MPPP/State to ban swiftlet farming in the heritage city.

If you ask me, what is my view; my vote is for banning the swiftlet farming in Heritage city, but not total ban of swiftlet farming, the breeder can moved their business to area zone for swiftlet breeding. Swiftlet breeding should ban in residential,city area and near the airport. That is my vote.

Swiftlets or Heritage City, what a headache for Penang. It is money and history, which one to choose? There can be alternative site for swiftlets breeding, but no alternative site for heritage city. We need to preserve the city for the future generations. MPPP and the state has done the right thing, to ban swiftlet farming in Heritage City of Georgetown. Penang people need to support the action of MPPP.

The heritage lovers will win the battle of bird and human, or the swiftlets farmers and Heritage lovers .....

Recommended articles/websites:

1. Swiftlet farm shutdown; http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2011/3/12/north/8239245&sec=north
2. Lucrative birds banned from Malaysia tourist city, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110310/ap_on_re_as/as_malaysia_bird_ban_3
3. No Swiftlet Houses In George Town; http://noswiftlethousesingeorgetown.blogspot.com/
4. Sarawak cracks down on illegal swiftlet breeders, http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/2/18/nation/3286872&sec=nation
5. When chirpings become a ruckus, http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=41615

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