sign in a cave in Laos

11 June 2020

Gomantong on Earth's Natural Wonders (2015)

Earth's Natural Wonders - BBC Scotland 2015 (TV series)

Exploring Inhospitable Places. "Series combining photography and human drama to reveal twelve remarkable places, uncovering the stories of people fighting to survive, and even triumph there."
A 6 minute sector featuring birds nest collection.

The narration is misleading, as it only mentions Deer Cave, which is initially shown. But then the rest of the sector is about nest collection in Gomantong, although this isn't mentioned.

Treasure troves accessible only to the very bravest. On the Malaysian island of Borneo, deep in the rain forest lies a hidden wonder. Deer Cave, an epic 168 m wide with a ceiling 220 m high and over 4 km long. A cavern big enough to fly a jumbo jet through. And for centuries Borneo's huge caves have lured men inside to search for treasures they will risk their lives for. Tomorrow morning Jumalee Tubong will enter this wonder. He may not come out alive. "What I do is very risky. But I have to do it. My wife and kids depend on me." For Jumilee and his father, today is the start of a dangerous week. "The cave is terrifying. Dark spirits live there. They take a human life every year." The men seek a great prize. The treasure produced by these birds, tens of thousands of swiftlets. Their nests are woven from solidified saliva and they are the precious ingredient of birds nest soup. In China a single bowl can cost $60. Inside a team erect a web of ropes and ladders. Jumalee will try to climb for nests 100 m above. A part of the cave notorious for accidents. "I'm ready to try. Is it strong enough?" "You mustn't hesitate. Let your body lead you. Slow down, it's swinging." "The man who taught me died falling. So I'm always giving my son advice." Jumalee is only allowed to collect nests for a few weeks a year. So every climb must count. "If you fall it's instant death. The cave's so high. Bodies are smashed beyond recognition. Are you okay? Go slowly now." He's reached a critical point. He needs to switch ladders. "Right leg first. Jumalee! Don't let go yet. That's good." The drop below is now a staggering 90 m. The height of Big Ben. "Okay, you can go." "I'm afraid when I look down. Sometimes I shake with fear. But I make myself do it." This enormous cave was first sculptured by water. But there's another remarkable force at work. The nesting swiftlets. The vertical columns lining the cave walls reveal how over millions of years the acidic droppings of nesting swiftlets and bats have eroded deep channels in the walls making the caves here bigger by an estimated meter every 100,000 years. Some caves have doubled in size as a result. "Go slowly now. As he approaches the top i'm neverous. Your soul hangs by the finest of threads." This time Jumalee has been successful. He has reached a remote corner with a valuable little cluster of nests. But he knows very climb he makes could be his last. And it's the very thing he's risking his life for, the birds nests, that has helped create the challenge in the first place.

Credits - Indonesian Forestry Dept, Sabah Government and Wildlife Dept, Sarawak Government and Tourism Board.

Shown BBC4 in June 2020. Some photos on BBCEarth and reproduced here -

And some photos from the television screen. The first one shows Deer Cave -

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