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Celebrating Birds Across Borders through the Asian Bird Fair

by Maia Tanedo

I have been privileged to be part of the Asian Bird Fair for the past how many years, allowing me to explore different countries in Asia and make friends from around the world. Truly, the Asian Bird Fair or ABF has opened many doors not only for me, but for all who participate in it. But what is the ABF anyway?

It started in 2010, when 3 passionate birdwatcher friends came together with an idea to create an annual event to highlight the different bird fairs in Asia, and at the same time promote the protection of birds and their habitats, and encourage birdwatching and other ecotourism activities. These three gentlemen who make up the ABF Execom are Mike Lu (from the Philippines), Victor Yu (from Taiwan), and Andrew Sebastian (from Malaysia.)

L-R: Victor Yu, Mike Lu, and Andrew Sebastian

Their idea was supported by 6 founding organizations from across the Asian region – the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Nature Society (Singapore), the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), the Wild Bird Society of Taipei (WBST), and the Chinese Wild Bird Federation.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed during a meeting of the founders and representatives of the founding organizations during Malaysia’s Raptor Watch event in 2010. The MoU was effective until 2015, where all organizations agreed to jointly promote each other’s bird events.

Hosting started with the Philippines in the same year, having the 1st Asian Bird Fair in Davao City. Since then, the 6 founding organization have taken turns hosting the ABF: Tainan (2011), Bangpoo, Thailand (2012), Taipei (2013), Langkawi, Malaysia (2014), and Singapore (2015.)

School children at the 1st Asian Bird Fair in Davao 2010
The WBCP booth at the 5th ABF in Langkawi, Malaysia 2014

The ABF has since expanded its scope starting with host cities Jingshan, China (2016), Ulsan, Korea (2017), Chiayi, Taiwan (2018), and Kuching, Malaysia (2019.) The pandemic halted the event for a couple of years before resuming in Suncheon, Korea in 2022 and most recently in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia in 2023. This year, the ABF returns to the Philippines after 14 years with Las Pinas City hosting the event.

Opening ceremony of the 7th ABF in Jingshan, China in 2016

Snapshot from the 8th ABF in Ulsan, Korea in 2019

Through the years, with over 140,000 visitors and participants and more than 26 countries represented – expanding the network to the South Americas – the Asian Bird Fair is now more than just a trade show highlighting ecotourism and conservation. The ABF brings stakeholders together and forges friendships and collaborations across the continent and beyond.

ABF delegates from across the globe during the 10th ABF in Kuching, Malaysia 2019

The ABF has something for everyone: conservationists can learn from best practices from neighboring countries, tour operators can network and create partnerships, birdwatchers can make friends from around the world, and families and kids can come and learn more about birds and the environment!

Did I miss anything out? Oh yes! There are also optics, gear, books, and other merchandise from around the world that can be of interest for anyone!

Scene from the 12th ABF in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia 2023

I am proud to say I have attended 6 ABFs and am more than happy to have assumed a supporting role to the ABF Execom. Through the ABF, I have made friends from countries I never imagined I would meet anyone from – Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Uganda to name a few! We remember each other and hug warmly when we meet at the next ABF, like long lost friends happy to be reunited even for just a few days. Together, we explore the next host country, its birds, and culture and look forward to the next adventure the ABF takes us on. 

So this year, together with the WBCP, I will play the part of host and show my ABF friends what the Philippines has to offer in the sliver of time they will spend here. I hope to see old friends and am excited to make new ones, as is inevitable at the ABF. I cannot properly convey just how enriching the experience has been for me, and I am truly excited for anyone who wants in. I hope more people participate in the ABF to join the network that has become one big happy family – a family celebrating across borders!

See you in November for the 13th ABF in Las Pinas, Philippines!

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