Tag Archives: conservation

“The Pandemic Killed Everything We Had Planned”

In their own words, conservationists share their their struggles during the Covid-19 pandemic. Part of Macaranga‘s Taking Stock series, these stories were written based on interviews; all interviewees approved the text.

DR WONG SIEW TE, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

THE PANDEMIC killed everything that we had planned for this year.

We have one major source of revenue – visitors. There are other sources, of course: donations, bear adoption programmes.

But with job losses and the economy deteriorating, it has affected a lot of our supporters.

(Photo: To generate income, Wong Siew Te is offering live virtual tours of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre . Pic: BSBCC)

Continue reading “The Pandemic Killed Everything We Had Planned”

Covid-19 Woes Continue for Conservation

Dire finances and stunted activity continue to plague Malaysia’s conservation sector because of Covid-19. Macaranga surveys the landscape in our Taking Stock series.

FROM GAPS in research to the loss of funding and conversely, wider outreach, Malaysian conservation organisations of every size have been impacted by Covid-19.

But what exactly are these impacts? How have the organisations adapted to this crisis? And have they strengthened their resilience against future shocks?

(Photo: Educational activities involving volunteers and groups have been disrupted [Malaysian Nature Society Facebook])

Continue reading Covid-19 Woes Continue for Conservation

A Sustainable Model: Looking South

EVERYTHING is about funding, says wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te bluntly. Wong started the Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan, Sabah in 2008.

Before that, he visited “too many zoos to count” over the space of 17 years, mainly in the US and Asia-Pacific.

His conclusion: the funding model that works is one where funds come from both visitors and government. And the best example of that is the Singapore Zoo, “the best-run zoo in Asia”.

Sun bear conservation

Dr Wong is clear that his centre is not a zoo—it is conservation focussed, and is indeed listed in the latest Malaysian national report on biodiversity as a success story for sun bear conservation.

It has rehabilitated and released seven animals back to the wild.

However, he based the centre’s financing model on that of the Singapore Zoo. Still short of achieving the same rate of success, he was caught overnight when the Covid-19 lockdown dried up visitors and funds for the centre.

But he is convinced the model works.

Startup funds

For starters, the Singapore government had pumped into the park “an astronomical amount of money”, says Dr Wong.

“They decided the whole zoo had to be a profit-making corporation. They need to do that to keep the standard of exhibits and experiences high enough to get people willing to come and pay.”

The Singapore Zoo is therefore able to raise the price of tickets.

“And there is a shop beside every single animal exhibit, so it’s buy-buy-buy everywhere you look. The restaurants are also very nice, so you want to eat there. It is a huge money spending experience.”

All that is necessary though.

Expanding

“With that money, it becomes not just about displaying wildlife, you can do education, which is actually relatively easy. But after that, you can do research and conservation. Conservation needs scientific data to back up actions.”

He says most large zoos in the developed world have a separate research and conservation department.

“But if you want to say, track a sun bear, a single satellite collar costs more than RM10,000. Without the money, without the mechanisms to generate revenue, everything is impossible.”

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 2) I Aquaria and Conservation

Aquaria and Conservation

WHEN IT comes to aquaria, how effective can they be in conservation?

“As a place to do outreach, aquaria are fine, but it’s hard to make a case to confine marine creatures if ultimately, the aquaria does not contribute to species’ survival in the wild,” says marine biologist Quek Yew Aun.

“For example, if you wanted to breed sharks, (artificial) conditions are much more difficult to do so. Then where do you release it? We have yet to fully understand the breeding habits and life cycle of many marine species.”

A challenging realm

Quek, who holds an MSc in biodiversity, conservation and management, adds that the nature of the marine realm makes ex-situ conservation and public participation challenging.

“Compared to the terrestrial realm, we can’t deny that less public attention and subsequently funds, go to marine conservation.”

One of the two largest aquaria in the country, Aquaria KLCC, did for the first time last year, release 20 juvenile and baby brownbanded bamboo sharks (Chiloscyllium punctatum) off Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan.

Berita Harian reported that they did this with the Negeri Sembilan Fisheries Department and it was part of the park’s 10-year captive breeding programme. The aquarium did not respond to enquiries for information.

Contradictory messaging?

At the same time, though, Aquaria KLCC depicts sharks in ways that local shark activists decry.

The facility is well-known for their seasonal Insta-friendly publicity events of dressing their shark tank divers in Chinese lion dance costumes during the Chinese New Year and Santa Claus during Christmas.

Meanwhile, its public cage-diving-with-sharks programme is called ‘Cage Rage’ and sports a logo featuring a fierce-looking shark bursting through a cage; its tagline is also ‘I Dare You!’

In the former case, sharks are relegated to adornments, and in the latter, they are depicted as terrifying, angry creatures.

Sustainably funded

Incidentally, neither of Malaysia’s two largest aquaria—the second is Underwater World Langkawi—appealed for donations during the Covid-19 lockdown.

They are both backed by public-listed corporations; Aquaria KLCC itself was even being considered for public listing (see A Sustainable Model—Looking South).

Notwithstanding the fact that the sea is even more inaccessible to urbanites than forests, Quek prefers more immersive experiences.

“For example, you can volunteer for organisations like the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu—Sea Turtle Research Unit.

“Participants sign up to spend an entire week in the Chagar Hutang Research Station (on Pulau Redang), where they will assist in the monitoring of sea turtle nesting, sea turtle measuring and tagging.

“Or join MareCet, who orgainses day trips for the public, where people can join dolphin researchers to spot marine mammals.” MareCet is a research and conservation non-profit focussed on marine mammals and the greater marine environment.

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Related Stories: Saving Zoos During Covid-19—Should We? (Part 1) I A Sustainable Model—Looking South

Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis – should we? (Pt 2)

With huge income loss during the Covid-19 crisis, is it time to look at the role that Malaysian zoos play in wildlife conservation? This is the second of the two-parter on zoos and aquaria in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series.

WITH THE Covid-19 pandemic under control, zoos and aquaria in Malaysia might have averted a funding crisis for now. However, the question remains as to why wildlife is kept captive in the first place.

By definition, a zoo is a place where captive wild animals are exhibited. It is short for ‘zoological park or garden’. Meanwhile, marine animals are exhibited in aquaria.

(Photo: Endangered animals can get a lifeline in zoos, such as these Banteng Bos javanicus in Lok Kawi Zoo, Sabah. Pic by Cede Prudente)

Continue reading Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis – should we? (Pt 2)

Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis—should we? (Pt 1)

Malaysian zoos lost almost all their income due to the Covid-19 crisis but were kept afloat partly by public donations. Was it worth Malaysians giving them millions? This is the first of the two-parter on zoos and aquaria in Macaranga’s Taking Stock series.

IN APRIL, the horrific possibility of animals from elephants to slow lorises starving to death behind bars, shocked Malaysians.

As is the case world-over, zoos and aquaria in Malaysia are heavily dependent on income from visitors. This income vanished overnight when Malaysia implemented measures to contain Covid-19.

The strict movement control order (MCO) that began on March 18, 2020 shut down all public venues, indefinitely at the time.

(Photo: Zoos’ revenues were hit hard during the pandemic, spotlighting the role of these parks in wildlife education and conservation. Pic by Cede Prudente)

Continue reading Saving zoos during Covid-19 crisis—should we? (Pt 1)

Taking Stock

(Updated 19 November 2020)

THE ENVIRONMENTAL sectors of Malaysia, like the rest of the country, were shaken in March 2020 by two major events: the Covid-19 crisis and a new government which seized power.

Over 6 months till October, Macaranga took stock of how 5 of these sectors were doing. The Insight reports looked at impacts as well as solutions and particularly whether there were opportunities to ‘build back better’.

Continue reading Taking Stock

Racing to Save a Plantation of Rare Trees

The bulldozing of millions of rainforest trees in private plantation Penawar Hutan has raised the profile of the value of gene banks for conservation.

IN FEBRUARY, endangered tree species in a plantation in Perak, whose lease had expired, were destroyed by a state-linked company. Mounting public concern brought the matter to the Menteri Besar who quickly stopped the bulldozing. The fate of the trees remains in limbo.

The 200-acre tree plantation in Tanjung Malim is owned and operated by private entity Penawar Hutan Sdn Bhd. It housed up to 2.5 million trees of hundreds of species.

(Photo: Penawar Hutan’s Sheila Ramasamy (left) showing the Perak Menteri Besar’s press secretary Adie Suri Zulkefli a bulldozed section of the plantation, Feb 24, 2020. Credit: YH Law)

Continue reading Racing to Save a Plantation of Rare Trees

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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Related reports: About ICCB I Quality Malaysian Research I What Price Entry?

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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Related Stories: About ICCB I Quality Malaysian Research I Marking Attendance