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Selling bird’s nest soup to save this bird: there’s a change in law

To save a bird,its nest will now be sold. In an unusual conservation strategy,the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) has delisted the Edible Nest Swiftlet....

Written by Neha Sinha | New Delhi |
August 18, 2009 3:54:35 am

To save a bird,its nest will now be sold. In an unusual conservation strategy,the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) has delisted the Edible Nest Swiftlet,a cave-nesting bird found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,from the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA).

Reason: local communities which poached the bird’s nests — used in the famous bird’s nest soup,a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and thought to be an aphrodisiac — are now being roped in to harvest the nests commercially.

This,argues the NBWL,will help to sustain both the communities and the Edible Nest Swiftlet itself.

The controlled sale of nests,which are made by the saliva of the Swiftlet,could only have been possible if the bird,accorded highest protection under Schedule One of the WPA,was delisted from the act. At a meeting of the NBWL Standing Commitee chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh last month,the bird was delisted for three years. The proposal had been pending with the NBWL for three years.

“Conservation strategies need to be flexible. One way of protecting this bird is to allow commercial harvesting of its nest. This means that poaching of the bird’s nest,which leads to the death of fledglings,will stop. This is also a strategy of protecting the bird,” said Asad Rahmani,an ornithologist and NBWL member.

The forest department of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will create artificial nesting enclosures for the Edible Nest Swiftlet. Members of the local community — the ‘poachers’ themselves — are being recruited to guard the nests at two major sites on the islands.

“People from the Ranchi community have been involved in the poaching of the nests. Now we are employing the same people to guard the nests in two major caves on the islands. One cave in the northern Andamans has 700 nests; another,on Interview Island,has 300. Nests will be allowed to be taken after strict monitoring,and only after the fledglings have flown,” said AK Paul,Conservator of Forests of the Islands.

The nests fetch around Rs 1 lakh for a kilogram in the international market,Paul said. There are over 1,000 breeding pairs in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The bird is found across South East Asia.

The Edible Nest Swiftlet nests only in caves. A different harvest strategy is to place the eggs of the Edible Nest Swiftlet in the nests of a related bird,the Glossy Swiflet,which nests in lit areas. This would encourage adult birds to nest in artificial enclosures.

“We have already fostered around 30 Edible Nest Swiftlet birds whose nests had been destroyed,in the nests of Glossy Swiftlets. The experiment has been successful,and may mean that the adult Edible Nest birds will begin nesting in these areas. We may continue with this strategy to encourage in-situ breeding of the Edible Nest Swiftlet,” said Paul.

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