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PUBLISHED: Apr 12, 2016 9:47pm

Owls happy to call Sunway home, gleefully hunting rats


The Rakyat Post

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Moon with her successful kill. – Pic courtesy of Barn Owl project team

SUBANG JAYA, 12 April 2016: 

The second pair of barn owls reintroduced in Bandar Sunway just two week ago has starting hunting and feeding on their own along the streets and back lanes of Sunway Metro’s commercial shop lots.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) head researcher for the barn owl project Professor Dr Abu Hassan Ahmad said the barn owls had started to hunt for rats and feeding on their own since they were released in PJS9, Bandar Sunway on March 29.

Radio transmitters have been attached to this pair of barn owls for tracking and monitoring.

He said photographs and videos captured of them feeding on rats caught in the area in the night were a first of its kind in Asia.

“The owls were introduced into the urban neighbourhood of PJS9, which has suitable trees for their owl box. Our research team has been tracking the owls daily since the release.

“The pair was recorded making their way in the neighbourhood for about two days before they flew over to Sunway Metro across the road. They even stopped at the Sunway Lagoon BRT station for a night on their way across the road.”

Ever since then, Abu Hassan said the commercial shop lots of Sunway Metro had become the hunting ground for the female owl (named Moon) every night.

“Moon flies in and out of the back lanes. It perches on the ledges of buildings, trees and even emergency ladders at the back lanes.

“Our team has even seen Moon strike at the rats, flying low and speedily to catch its prey. Moon is showing good progress. She has been feeding on her own daily. She has also been recorded grooming herself and even seeking shelter when it rains.”

The joint effort between USM; Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ); Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) and SJ Echo is a first-of-its-kind initiative in Malaysia and Asia to urbanise barn owls for controlling urban rat populations.

Universiti Putra Malaysia has since joined the project, led by Assoc Prof Dr Hafidzi Mohd Noor – who is an expert in Vertebrate Pest Ecology & Biological Pest Control.

Dr Hafidzi said the male owl (named Tuah) is believed to have flown off to explore his territory. Owls have a flying radius of 20km to 40km.

“Our team is trying to retrace Tuah. This is a common behaviour of male owls. They leave their female behind to explore their new territory and will return when it is comfortable with its surroundings.

“It is not impossible for owls to wander off and relocate many kilometres away. Our team is expanding their search to detect the faintest signal from the transmitter on Tuah.”

Dr Hafidzi said the rats in Bandar Sunway were huge. “Moon could not fly off with the rat it caught because it was too heavy.

“It had to kill the rat and eat it by the street. It started with detaching the head of its prey and swallowing it. Moon then continued to eat the intestines of the rat.

“Once the carcass was lighter, Moon took it in her beak and flew to a nearby coconut tree to enjoy the rest of her meal.”

Abu Hassan said Moon had also been spotted exploring the buildings around Sunway Hotel Resort & Spa, flying low and perching every now and then to check out her new environment.

“On one of the nights, Moon swooped down on an awning at the back of a coffee shop in Sunway Metro. She caught a rat but the awning was too slippery and both predator and prey fell off the awning.

“Moon was holding on to the rat but let it go to break her own fall; flying straight to a fridge door latch right after. She missed her dinner on that attempt but continued to hunt,” he said, adding that these behavioural observations were unique as it had never been recorded in an urban environment.

This is the second of 12 pairs of barn owls sponsored by the corporate sector. The remaining owls, which are now housed in USM’s aviary in Penang, are waiting to be despatched to Subang Jaya in batches.

MPSJ president Datuk Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan was elated with the progress of the project and said he was happy the pair of barn owls released in Bandar Sunway was doing well.

“Given time, the owls will be able to help us in our efforts to reduce the rat population in the project area. This project will take time before it shows its full potential. I receive updates from the research team on a daily basis on their observations and progress.”

Nor Hisham reminded the public that barn owls are a protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

“We have received reports from our research team and the police that some members of the public had tried to disturb the birds. We have even received reports that someone tried to shoot it with a catapult but was reprimanded by the police.

“I would like to remind the public that it is an offence to do so. You can be arrested and fined RM100,000 or imprisoned for three year or both if found guilty of trying to hunt, hurt or catch the bird.”

Find out more about the Subang Jaya Owl project on their Facebook Page – SJOwls. – SJ Echo



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