Gomantong Cave is a colossal limestone habitat located in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. This cave has two complexes – Black and White – named after the swiftlet bird species that call it home. Parts of the cave soar to almost 300 feet in height.
Okay, so I was warned about how gross this place was before my tour, and I have a pretty high tolerance for dirty environments. And now Gomantong Cave takes the cake for the nastiest wildlife habitat I’ve ever experienced.
But despite all the dirty, this remarkable living cave is home to a fascinating group of diverse species, all thriving in peaceful cohabitation.
When I approached Gomantong Cave with my ecotour group, I was taken back by the overwhelming stench of bat guano in the air.
Billions of cockroaches scurried about, feeding on piles of droppings.
I wasn’t kidding when I said billions. They ran across our hiking boots. They scuttled on the handrail. They darted up the cave walls and along the limestone floor.
High up on the cave ceiling, wrinkled-lip bats hung upside down, resting for their exodus at dusk.
Every evening just before sunset, these bats take flight from the cave by the millions to feast on insects and fruits in the rainforest.
In the darkness and coolness of the chamber, we listened to the squeaking of creatures darting above our heads:
Swiftlets also inhabit the nooks and crannies of these soaring cave interiors.
These birds make nests of vital importance to the local economy because they are harvested and made into edible nest soup, a delicacy that has been tradition hundreds – and possibly a thousand – years. Minchu, our guide from Red Ape Encounters, says that the nests make the “soup of the gods,” according to local belief.
A BBC report stated that these swiftlet nests, gram for gram, hold the title as one of the most expensive food items on the planet. Because of the value placed on these nests, guards stand watch at the cave entrance and the wildlife department strictly regulates the sustainable harvesting of the nests. (A noose even hangs from a tree outside of the cave entrance to warn off potential thieves).
One of the cave workers showed us a very valuable white nest up close in exchange for two cigarettes. This delicate swiftlet nest below is comprised mostly of saliva, but you can see feathers and organic matter as well:
On our way out of the cave, we also spotted three-inch long poisonous centipedes…
… rats, worms and freshwater crabs.
When we came out of the cave, our shoes were caked in guano and white and black droppings streaked our hats.
Just outside of Gomantong Cave, lush rainforest offers more wildlife viewings. From our standing point at the chamber entrance, we spotted a lone orangutan building a nest, an Oriental pied hornbill and bat hawks looking for their next meal.
Do you enjoy exhilarating encounters with animals? Check out episodes of Wild Encounters Saturday Setpember 25 at 9P et/pt on Nat Geo WILD!