PLACES OF INTEREST IN TAWAU > Madai Caves
1.5 Hours 89 Km from Tawau Town
Madai Caves is located between Lahad Datu and Tawau, the hill
containing Madai Caves itself rises steeply from the forest floor.
There are more than 25 caves in this area, but Madai is the biggest and best known. The caves were first visited 60 years ago by scientists who noted how the phosphate deposits from the bat and swiftlet guano were collected and used as a fertilizer.
Madai caves is 3 km off Lahad Datu-Tawau Highway. The turn-off is 69km from Lahad Datu. Watch out for the signpost that says 'Gua Madai'.
From the turn-off, it is 3km to the caves. From Lahad Datu, the turn-off is on the right hand side.
Hotels in Tawau and Lahad Datu arrange day tour to the caves around Rm 100 per person (minimum 2 persons)
The caves can be easily visited, being only 1.6 kilometres from the main
road. At the mouth of the cave, you can also see the nest collectors’ village.
It is only occupied seasonally during harvesting times. If you do intend to
venture into the caves, do remember to take a flashlight with you as some areas
are in total darkness. But where you come across daylight shining through some
of the openings, you will see the most fantastic limestone sculptures.
In August 2000, after offering special sacrifices and prayers, the Ida’ans gave permission for teams of the Eco-Challenge Sabah to enter the caves, climb rattan-ladders and do the flying fox from its summit, down to the jungle below in the world's toughest endurance race.
A staircase leads up to one of the entrances. First, you walk through a dark tunnel where there is a grave of an unknown person. This passage leads to the cave entrance, where there are a few houses, used by the men who guard and collect the nests.
There is also another grave. This one supposedly belongs to "Nenek Apui", who was one of the earliest inhabitants here.
The collection is controlled and restricted to twice a year, so as not to deplete the swiftlet population.
There were few ladders hanging in the cave, but more will be installed when the collection begins.
The last 100 meters of the road leading to the Madai Caves is a very steep downward dead end.
In this photo the road looks as if it is a straight and level but it is not.
If you drive your car here do not risk yourself with this steep dead end where your car may stuck unable to reverse.
Park you car at the vast new car park 200 meters before here.
Once into the cave, visitors struck by how impressive it is. The ceiling is about 100 meters above, and the chambers are large.
There are several openings high in the roof that allow a small amount of daylight to enter.
In Madai, the collection of birds' nests is controlled by the villagers who own the rights.
On the way to the cave, visitors pass through village houses of the local guardians of the birds' nests.
During the nest collecting season these houses are places for the nest collectors to stay.
There is a small mosque in the village.
At the lower part of the cave there is a river passage, where the river comes pouring out of the hill. This is spectacular as there are not many river caves in Malaysia.
Lots of cockroaches running around, feeding on smaller invertebrates. All around visitors hear the clicking of the swiftlets and chirping of insects.
The floor is covered in guano and it was actually quite slippery walking across the sticky, wet droppings.
There are 2 type of swiftlets that produce eatable bird nest:
1) Black-nest swiftlets (Collocalia maximus)
2) White-nest swiftlets (Collocalia fuciphagus)
Other then home to the swiftlets, Madai Caves are also home to the bats.
While the swiftlets are out foraging during the day and return to roost at night, the bats sleep at daylight and search for food at night.
Harvesting Swiftlet Nest in Madai Caves
Harvesting birds' nests is a well known industry throughout Borneo, which features many limestone caves that are home to the swiftlets that build the edible nests.
Madai Caves is an important place for swiftlet birds' nests. Madai village comes alive twice a year when the Ida’an community comes to harvest the birds' nests from various parts of the caves.
It is a special communal festival event. The harvesting is a dramatic event with the men risking their lives to prise precious nests from the cave roof. The Ida’ans have held their rights to the Madai Caves for over 20 generations.
Sabah has a more successful harvest systems function in Gomantong and Madai Caves. Madai Caves are not as well known as the Gomantong Caves half an hour drive from here, or not as popular as Gunung Mulu Caves in Sarawak.
The local Idahan people have had the rights for collecting birds' nests in Madai area for many generations.
Modern Method of Swiftlet Farming
Swiftlet farming is becoming big business in Malaysia in the last 2 decades.
Existing buildings are being converted to bird "hotels", while some places new purpose-built structures are being constructed. The demand for birds' nests has continued to soar over recent years, especially for the culinary and medicinal markets.
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