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BANDAR BAHARU, KEDAH, 14 March 2023 – Barn owls have been proven to be highly-effective biological pest control agents against rodents in oil palm plantations, especially in the context of Malaysia.

Based on findings by researchers, mice can form up to 99 percent of a barn owl’s diet, and a pair of barn owls and their brood could eat up to 1,300 mice yearly.

In view of that, it can be seen as one ‘green’ solution that could encourage the use of barn owls by small oil palm plantation owners in managing pests on their plantations.

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In addition to being sustainable, such a method could also reduce the use of pesticides that could be harmful to the environment, as well as to avoid having negative side-effects to other living things that would eat the poisoned mice.

Realising the uniqueness available in such an ecosystem, the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Barn Owl and Rodent Research Group (BORG), and working together with the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation (MPOGCF) have launched the Barn Owl for Oil Palm Smallholders Initiatives (BOSI).

BOSI is a special project comprising of the handing over and installing of 20 nest boxes for the barn owls, known by its scientific name as Tyto javanica javanica to the small plantation owners in the township of Bagan Samak, Bandar Baharu in Kedah.

The BORG Coordinator, who is also a lecturer at the USM School of Biological Sciences (PPSK), Associate Professor Dr. Hasber Salim said, the BOSI programme is capable of assisting smallholder plantation owners in controlling and reducing the population of rodents effectively.

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“The boxes supplied have been designed to attract the barn owls to build their nest within a safe and suitable environment. Smallholders were also shown how to construct and place the nest boxes correctly.

“This also relates to the use of proper GPS mapping techniques to ensure that the nest boxes are evenly-distributed, with a nest box for every five hectares within the area,” he said.

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Added Hasber, throughout the duration of this project, the research team will be closely monitoring the rate of the barn owls occupying the installed nest boxes, its breeding process as well as the population density of mice in the area.

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He further said, BORG is thrilled to be working with MPOGCF, not only in sharing the same objective of conserving the biodiversity, but also in providing financial assistance and full support in ensuring that the project will be running smoothly for the next two years.

Meanwhile, the General Manager of MPOGCF, Zamakhshari Muhamad said, they are committed in supporting the conservation and sustainable efforts, especially with regard to the palm oil industry.

He also expressed confidence in the output in the implementation of BOSI, to create greater awareness among the smallholders on the effectiveness of using barn owls as a long-term solution to the pest management problem.

Certificates were also presented to participants at the ceremony, which saw the attendance of the Advisor of BORG, Professor Dr. Abu Hassan Ahmad; Deputy Dean Academic, Career and International PPSK USM, Associate Professor Dr. Yahya Mat Arip; principal officers of MPOGCF and USM researchers.

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Translation: Mazlan Hanafi Basharudin/Photo: Mohd Fairus Md Isa

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