My Jakarta: Heru Gunawan, Bird Seller
The cramped confines of Jakarta are a difficult place to keep a pet. Cats and dogs often have little space to stretch, so many people decide to get a bird instead.
When they do, they turn to someone like Heru Gunawan, who now operates his third bird shop in Jembatan Tiga, West Jakarta. The 37-year-old finds himself running a business that at first seems as simple as that of any other road-side seller, but involves tens of millions of rupiah for its enthusiasts.
Today he tells My Jakarta about why he set up the business, what his birds like to eat and what competition juries look for in a creature.
How long have you been in the bird business?
I have been doing this for more than 10 years, in three different places. I finally settled here in Jembatan Tiga, My first shop was in Pasar Pagi but was relocated. Then I moved to Kampung Janis, but was again closed down.
And your personal bird collection?
I have collected so many birds I’ve lost count [smiles]. But since my priority is to make a living, I had to put my collecting frenzy on hold and mostly sell them if I knew they would fetch a good price.
I used to be a salesman after I graduated from high school. But then over time I realized that I could make money out of my bird hobby. So with all the risk it entails, I quit my job and opened a bird shop. And so far I think I’ve made the right decision.
Do you sell other pets as well?
For a side job, I also sell chicken and fish. People have different tastes in their pets [smiles]. But I focus on birds and everything related to them, such as the foods that different birds prefer — from live foods like worms and crickets to the processed poultry foods you commonly see at markets. I also sell medicine for common bird illnesses. And cages — there are many models you can find here, from ones made of wood to those of steel.
What about dealing with beginners trying to find their first bird?
Honestly, it’s simple. You just give them thorough details about the bird, including its health, character, food and just about everything else you need to know to take care of a living being.
How much should we be prepared to pay for our first bird?
The cheapest one costs only Rp 50,000 ($5.30), and the biggest payment I’ve ever received was around Rp 3 million. I usually get these birds from other bird sellers, and it involves some speculation. If I think a bird has the potential to perform well in a competition, I’ll buy it and give it a very good care, hoping it will fetch a significantly higher price when I sell it later on.
How does taking care of a bird differ from taking care of another pet?
Well, most people have only one or two dogs, while birds you can have by the dozen. And there are also different methods people use to take care of their beloved birds.
Some people strictly feed their birds crickets up to five times a day. Other birds must be put in separate cages or have some of the cage covered with cloth or paper so they don’t get stressed or aggressive around other birds. We don’t want these expensive birds to fight and hurt each other, especially competition birds.
How serious are bird competitions? Are they just for fun?
You have no idea the amount of money involved in these events. Even the registration fee costs millions depending on the bird species. The lowest is Rp 1 million, and the highest is Rp 7.5 million. Simply said, the winner of these competitions can receive as much as Rp 100 million in prize money, just by having a bird that is judged by a jury to have a lovely voice or other properties like their colors and feathers.
Some people also find these events as great opportunities to sell or buy birds. Whenever your bird wins a contest in its class, its selling price will go up to the point where it can be valued as highly as a brand new car.
Heru was talking to Erwin Chanputra.