By Arno Maierbrugger
Gulf Times Correspondent
Among the most creative investment ideas of present days is certainly the zebra dove, a small bird native to Southeast Asia, which has become the centre of a lucrative export business from Southern Thailand.
The zebra dove is best known for its exotic yet pleasant soft, staccato cooing calls, which is the reason why they became popular with breeders especially in Thailand’s Muslim south which has one of the birds’ highest populations and accounts for 80% of Thailand’s dove exports.
Since zebra dove farming began in Chana district in Southern Thailand in 1969, the bird has been exported to major markets Malaysia and Singapore, as well as Brunei, Indonesia and even the Middle East, and prices for the best birds (judged by their singing abilities) at auctions and competitions have today reached more than $90,000, Sommai Khwantongyim, president of the Zebra Dove Raisers Association of Thailand, told Gulf Times at a visit on a dove farm in Chana.
For the poor, Muslim-dominated South of Thailand, the zebra dove breeding business has become an important supplementary income source, in addition to farming, contributing about 20% of people’s livelihood in Chana district whose population is around 100,000 and which is part of Songkhla, one of the four insurgency-plagued southern Thai provinces. Previously a no-go area due to frequent attacks by insurgents, the district is now open for visitors as the security situation has improved due to efforts by the military government in Thailand.
There are currently 1,600 zebra dove farms in Chana, of which 40 are large farms and the rest smaller ones. Each large farm has around 200 to 400 dove breeders, while smaller ones do have 20 to 40. Altogether, about 3,000 to 4,000 new zebra doves are produced each month on average, and the business has created various side occupations such as cage and fabric making and the production of bird feed and bird medicine.
While the majority of zebra doves is kept by locals as pets, around 6,000 to 7,000 are exported annually, according to Khwantongyim, which in peak times resulted in 1bn baht ($31.3mn) in annual trade volume. Stricter government regulations for the bird trade have reduced the volume in the past, though, which pushed prices even higher.
Trade mainly takes place in so-called cooing competitions in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. At such events, the doves are judged by the melody and the loudness of their singing, from high-pitched to lower tones, whereby good cooing doves can command a higher price in the market.
While the average market value of a zebra dove lies between $1,000 and $3,000, good cooing doves can fetch more than $50,000 and price-winning ones more than $90,000. The doves are always sold in pairs.
The zebra dove business in Southern Thailand is also expected to become a driver for tourism in a region which is in dire need for economic development. Plans are to include Chana district in halal travel packages in Thailand as one part of the efforts of the Tourism Association of Thailand to increase the number of Muslim tourist to the country. There are also plans to establish a learning centre for zebra dove breeding, the first of its kind.
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