Barn owls can reduce rat population in oil palm plantations
BANDAR BAHARU - The use of barn owls in oil palm plantations can control and reduce the rat population, thus minimising the use of dangerous chemical poisons.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Barn Owl and Rodent Research Group (BORG) head researcher Dr Hasber Salim said a pair of barn owls and their chicks are capable of eating about 1,300 rats a year, where studies show that rats comprise up to 99 per cent of the bird's diet.
Hasber added that the existence of barn owls helps smallholders reduce the pest rat population and even minimise the use and purchase of rat poison, which is often associated with harmful chemical effects on biodiversity in oil palm plantations and its food chain.
"Barn owls have long been used in the industry, but this time, we want to help smallholders."
"We know that the use of chemical control is more widespread because it is easy to obtain and the method of use is simple, but in the long term there is a risk of having a toxic effect not only on pests but also on human life.
"The biological approach we use can control rats while preserving the environment."
"Smallholders may already be comfortable using chemical poisons because they show a quick effect; after two or three days the rats are dead, but if you use biological methods, you won't see rats in front of your eyes, but it gives long-term benefits," he said.
He said this during the launch of the Barn Owl for Oil Palm Smallholders Initiative (BOSI), which was officiated by Malaysian Palm Oil Green Recovery Foundation (MPOGCF) general manager, Zamakhshari Muhamad, at the Al-Huda Mosque here on Tuesday.
Also present during the event was BORG advisor, Dr Abu Hassan Ahmad.
Artificial nest box
Zamakhshari added that each BOSI participant is provided with an artificial nest box that will be installed in their oil palm plantation in Mukim Bagan Samak.
According to him, a total of 20 artificial nests will be installed where the installation process includes the use of GPS mapping techniques to ensure that artificial nest boxes are distributed evenly at a density of one box per five hectares.
"MPOGCF believes that it can raise awareness about the effectiveness of creating a local barn owl population as a long-term solution in the sustainable management of pests in oil palm plantations as well as improving the quality of plantation produce," he said.
In addition, one participant, Ibrahim Mat, 78, said that the natural method is expected to be able to improve quality and reduce the risk of crop damage due to the use of chemical poisons.
"If you want to install it, I agree because it has never been used, but you can try it," he explained.