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Marking Attendance

COMMENT BY SL WONG: I KEPT wishing the ICCB 2019 sessions were better attended overall, and by Malaysians specifically. I felt embarrassed for the speakers, seeing so many empty seats in rooms or worse, large halls.

I wondered if it was especially disheartening for students or early-career conservationists who had sweated over their presentations.

But poor attendance really felt like a wasted opportunity at two of the three panels featuring Malaysian government decision-makers and operations heads.

Audiences—especially Malaysians—missed out on the chance to listen to, and engage with the civil servants on policy and operations.

At the one session that saw full attendance, the Director-General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks even happily got into an exchange with a delegate from another country about how best to trap monkeys that had become pests.

Good engagement

The saving point for the two poorly-attended sessions was the quality of engagement. 

For example, at the session featuring the Ministry of Education official, three Malaysian activists shared perspectives and asked probing questions on STEM education. These ranged from the inclusion of conservation subjects, to collaborating with NGOs and scientists, and funding.

The official fielded all these questions, and one impression that struck me in his answers was the limitations the Ministry was facing, including budget cuts. He also asked for patience in implementing the raft of planned policy changes, which included retraining thousands of teachers.

“Transformation is taking place by the new government you have elected. We have to wait. Let the effectiveness take place. It will kick in in the next generation.”

I wished more people were present to hear that.

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What Price Entry?

BECAUSE of the conversation around the ICCB 2019 registration fee, Macaranga took to Twitter post-congress to conduct a straw poll and carry out a discussion on this issue.

Though with only 25 respondents, the straw poll confirmed that they all found the fee too high.

Macaranga ICCB 2019 Twitter Poll

Twitter discussions saw solutions offered to this issue.

@jkfoon suggested “holding conferences in university rather than 5-star venues, live-stream all conference talks rather than requiring people to fly around to world to attend, reducing the frills like bags, tags, performances etc.”

Others said high speaker fees should be looked at and floated the use of purchasing power parity for differential country pricing.

In contrast, another conservation meeting held days after ICCB in Madagascar, saw local researchers make up 42% of participants. More than half were students.

This was the the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting. As tweeted by ATBC attendee, Malagasy researcher @SarobidyRakoto, the total raised to support local participation at meeting was USD9,000 (RM37,800).

The money was raised by ATBC itself, NGOs and individuals.

Interestingly, a tweet by another ATBC participant—since deleted because it was confusing—gave the impression that foreign researchers attending ATBC had to sponsor a local graduate student. That was not the case.

But the idea went down well with Malaysians discussing the high-registration-fee issue.

“That’s a great model!” said @aini1905 from the ICCB 2019 local organising committee. “Perhaps if we have next <sic> world chapter congress we’d be able to expand this same model.”

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Quality Malaysian Research

COMMENT BY YH LAW: I WAS very happy to see that most Malaysian speakers aced their presentations at ICCB 2019. The younger speakers deserve special praise—they were confident, lively and eager to share their work. 

They presented effectively and answered questions well. They dished out plenty of positive vibes. And often their friends or colleagues were sitting in the audience—peer support must have helped!

Many of the Malaysian talks I went to showcased on-going work or results of their Master theses, which are often a prelude to bigger research projects.

So, I was often left wanting more. But I’m relieved to see that our younger scientists or conservationists are well trained. 

I am disappointed however, that there was no symposium or plenary dedicated to oil palm. 

Whither oil palm?

Given the impact that oil palm has on the environment, whether perceived or true, not dedicating a plenary or several symposiums on the issue is ignoring the elephant in the room. 

(Though there was a handful of talks about elephants that discussed the animal’s use of oil palm landscapes.) 

With more than 1,300 regional and international participants, mostly conservation practitioners and some industry players, ICCB 2019 in Kuala Lumpur was arguably the best platform to discuss and debate the environmental aspects of oil palm. 

We could have had so much science and so many opinions from experts and practitioners. The exchange might be awkward, perhaps even uncomfortable, but I think that is part of the process needed to get us out of our echo chambers and cross the divide. 

Finding answers

We need solutions to the complex, thorny issue of oil palm, solutions which I doubt would emerge from a feel-good conversation. 

Whatever the solutions might be, we missed the chance to discuss them at ICCB 2019. It’s everyone’s loss, including the government and people of Malaysia and Indonesia, and all concerned conservationists.

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About ICCB

THE INTERNATIONAL Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) is a global forum for “addressing conservation challenges and for presenting new research in conservation science and practice”. 

Since 1988, it has been organised once every two years by the US-based Society for Conservation Biology. The society has nearly 3,500 members from 140 countries.

ICCB differs from many other conferences as it cuts across fields, from biology to management and technology.

At each congress, professionals and students present and discuss research and developments in conservation science and practice.

A plethora of avenues are offered for this including plenaries, symposia, moderated discussions, and poster and booth exhibits. There are also workshops, a careers night, and field trips.

As such, ICCBs are also important networking events.

The ICCB 2019 theme was ‘Conservation Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Biodiversity with Communities, Governments and Stakeholders’. Its daily themes were plastic solutions, empowering communities, diversity in science and saving wildlife and wild places.

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Opportunities Seized and Missed

In July, more than 1,300 conservationists met in Kuala Lumpur for the first time. This was one of the most important conservation gatherings in the world: the International Congress for Conservation Biology. What did it do for conservation in Malaysia?

IT WAS extraordinary to see them on the stage. Roslan Carang, Param bin Pura and Hadi bin Mes were addressing international conservationists in a huge plenary hall. The three Orang Asli men hail from Malaysia’s largest forest complex, the Belum-Temenggor.

It was extraordinary because this was the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2019, one of the largest meetings of conservation practitioners and students in the world. 

(Photo: Roslan Carang, Param bin Pura and Hadi bin Mes presenting at the panel on ‘Indigenous Perspectives on Conservation Biology and Community Development’. Credit: SL Wong)

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Illegal Export of Blue-legged Tarantula Highlights Biopiracy Woes

She has electric-blue legs and a creamy toffee body. She’s a spider and she has just been named. But the dubious means by which specimens like her end up in scientists’ hands is cause for alarm, as featured in Science by YH Law, with reporting by Erik Stokstad.

Continue reading Illegal Export of Blue-legged Tarantula Highlights Biopiracy Woes